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Sep 30, 2010

British Regency Era

The Regency era in the United Kingdom is the period between 1811 — when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent — and 1820, when the Prince Regent became George IV on the death of his father. The term Regency era sometimes refers to a more extended time frame than the decade of the formal Regency. The period between 1795 and 1837 (the latter part of the reign of George III and the reigns of his sons George IV, as Prince Regent and King, and William IV) was characterized by distinctive trends in British architecture, literature, fashions, politics, and culture.

Auden

W.H. AUDEN
What’s that again?
INTERVIEWER
I wondered which living writer you would say has served as the prime protector of the integrity of our English tongue . . . ?
AUDEN
Why, me, of course!
—Conversation, Autumn 1972


Sep 29, 2010

Kay Ryan: 16th Poet Laureate USA

Kay Ryan, who was named the sixteenth poet laureate of the United States in July, lives in Fairfax, California, where for more than thirty years she has taught remedial English part-time at the College of Marin at Kentfield. She is often referred to as a poetry “outsider” and underdog. She resists writing in the first person, preferring to write personal poems “in such a way that nobody has to know it.” In lieu of narrative and biography, she uses irony and humor to unravel the idiosyncrasies of language and the haplessness of human existence. She is fond of malapropisms and clichés, two linguistic devices that many poets consider taboo. She employs what she calls “recombinant rhyme”—hidden rhymes that appear in the middle, rather than at the end of her short lines. Her penchant for brevity has garnered her a reputation as a poet of “compression,” but Ryan disagrees. Although she says she likes to “squeeze things until they explode,” she insists “there’s a sense of air and ease in even the smallest of my poems.” 

V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) Naipaul

Interview of VS Naipaul from THE PARIS REVIEW
Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was born on August 17, 1932 in Chaguanas, Trinidad, where his ancestors had emigrated from India—his maternal grandfather, at the turn of the century, had traveled from that country as an indentured servant.

Sep 27, 2010

Rushdie terms Monarchy Stupid, Archaic

Rushdie terms Monarchy Stupid, Archaic:
LONDON: Indian-origin author Salman Rushdie has termed the British monarchy and its traditions “stupid” and “archaic.”
“The monarchy and its traditions are archaic… stupid... a British oddity,” the winner of the Booker of the Bookers said in an interview to The Sunday Times.
If so, why did he accept knighthood? Sir Salman Rushdie, 63, said he had received an honour from the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and it would have been extraordinary to accept something from the French state and “then refuse something from my own country.” — PTI

Sep 26, 2010

The Ring and the Book

The Ring and the Book is a long dramatic narrative poem, and, more specifically, a verse novel, of 21,000 lines written by Robert Browning. It was published in four installments from 1868 to 1869.

Plot:
The book tells the story of a murder trial in Rome  in 1698, whereby an impoverished nobleman, Count Guido Franceschini, is found guilty of the murders of his young wife Pompilia Comparini and her parents, having suspected his wife was having an affair with a young cleric, Giuseppe Caponsacchi. Having been found guilty despite his protests and sentenced to death, Franceschini then appeals - unsuccessfully - to Pope Innocent XII to overturn the conviction. The poem comprises twelve books, each a dramatic monologue spoken by a different narrator involved in the case, usually giving a different account of the same events.

Synge's Aran Islands Journal

J. M. Synge was primarily a playwright, best known for his play The Playboy of the Western World, and one of the leading lights of the "Irish Revival" movement of the late 1800s-early 1900s. The Revival fixed on the Aran Islands as representing the pure, Irish-speaking world it sought to revive, and Synge, an Anglo-Irishman whose uncle had served as the Protestant clergyman to the islands almost fifty years before, went to Aran off and on during the years 1898-1902 to study the Irish language (his Irish is good). He was also an assiduous collector of stories, poems and other folklore, an activity greatly respected and eagerly supported by the islanders. He published The Aran Islands in 1907, the same year that Playboy was first produced at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

Sep 25, 2010

Achebe Wins $300,000 Prize

The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe has won the $300,000 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, which recognizes artists who have had an extraordinary impact in their field. The award, named after the silent film stars, will be delivered at a ceremony on Oct. 27 in New York. Past winners include Robert Redford, Ornette Coleman, Merce Cunningham and Frank Gehry. Mr. Achebe’s books are among the most widely read in African literature. His 1958 novel, “Things Fall Apart,” has sold more than 10 million copies, and he has also won the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction and the Nigerian National Merit Award.

Poetic Justice

By BRENDA WINEAPPLE
Published: September 24, 2010

Imagine Stephen Dedalus in a fiction workshop surrounded by 20-something neophytes. Better yet, picture Huck Finn, having lit out for the territory, handing sections of his new memoir to Tom and Aunt Sally. Though this may seem amusing, today thousands of hopeful authors distribute their self-portraits to other hopeful authors who sit around seminar tables in one of the hundreds of writing programs thriving nationwide.

Sep 22, 2010

Troubles: by Farrell

J. G. Farrell's Troubles (1970)is the first novel in his so-called "Empire Trilogy," followed by The Siege of Krishnapur (1973, Booker Prize winner) and The Singapore Grip (1978). Of course "Troubles" refers to the ongoing violence between Irish republicans and British security forces (the notorious "Black and Tans") in the early 20th century after the Easter Uprising of 1916 and during the subsequent Irish civil war, and then later between Protestant Unionists and the IRA in the middle decades of the century and sporadically until the present day.

The White Tiger: Aravind Adiga

I'm trying not to be influenced by the blurbs (seven pages of them?) festooning my Free Press trade paperback first edition copy, complete with "Reading Group Guide," of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, winner of the 2008 Booker Prize. The book, a first novel by an Indian-born writer who has lived in Australia, Britain and the US, was predictably hyped to the stars. (I still take the Booker seriously and I always check out the books. Sad to say I pay no attention to the Nobel. The Booker is also politicized, not to mention parochial, but neither of those flaws necessarily means the books aren't good.) The comparison to Russian literature is inevitable, the blurbs mention Dostoevsky, Gogol and Gorky but Gary Shteyngart's excellent Absurdistan, the subject of an earlier post, came to my mind. Both books illuminate the extravagant excesses of globalization in Asia with the kind of black comedy that comes from righteous rage. Then I noticed that Shteyngart wrote one of the blurbs on the back cover - so did I think of Shteyngart on my own?

Reconsidering Updike

Many stirring and provocative reactions to John Updike’s death yesterday at seventy-six. The best, of course, belongs to Patrick Kurp, who adopts a wise autobiographical strategy, laying out the course of his Updike reading. Kurp finally prefers Updike as a critic, describing him as an “indefatigable teacher.” He quotes from essays on Nabokov, Henry Green, Daniel Fuchs, and William Maxwell. One of my favorite passages is when Updike opens an essay on two avant-garde satirists by commenting on the way their books are printed:

Sep 21, 2010

Restoration

History:
        You that delight in with and mirth   
        and love to hear such news   
        as comes from all parts of the earth   
         ……………………………………   
        I’ll send ye to a rendezvous    
        where it is smoking new:   
        Go, hear it at a Coffee House, (Jordan)”   
Restoration Period (1660-1700) takes its name from the Restoration of the Stuart or Charles II to the English throne in 1660, at the end of the Commonwealth; it is specified as lasting until 1700 (Abrams).

Sep 19, 2010

Harper's meeting with Murdoch-The Real story

Why would big-time global media tycoon Rupert Murdoch meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss how miniscule Canadian media tycoon Pierre-Karl Péladeau could set up a Quebecor Media television knock-off of Murdoch's Fox News channel?

Romantic

History
The period which start with the French Revolution (1789) or the publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798) is known as the romantic movement—which Victor Hugo calls “liberalism in literature”—is simply the expression of life as seen by imagination, rather than by prosaic “common sense”, that is why Arnold says “Romanticism knows nothing”; and Hoxie N. Fairchild calls it “Devil’s Advocate”.

Caroline Age

History
The reign of Charles I, 1625-49 is called the Caroline Age; the name is derived from “Carolus,” the Latin version of “Charles.” This was the time of the England civil was fought between the supporters of the king (known as Cavaliers) and the supporters of the parliament (known as Roundheads, from their customs of wearing their hair cut short).

Post Modernism

History
Post Modernism emerged after the Second World War as a reaction against the “Modernist” and the “Anti-Modernist” tendencies. Historically, it can be traced back as far as the Deda Movement which began in Zurich in 1916, but as a significant force in Modern writing. “

Sensibility

History:
“The immense success of Handel’s Messiah on its first London performance in  1743, may be taken as the another index of the coming change” —Hudson,  that, in literature, is called Bourgeois Classicism or Age of Sensibility which begins to associate itself with the need of imagination, and sympathy for the Middle Ages; a turn from Neo-Classical idea of reason. Thomas Gray’s Stanzas toMr. Bentley (1752) expressed this anti-neoclassicism:  

Victorian

History
Victorian Age (1837-1900) is remarkable for the rapid development of the art, mechanical inventions, and for the human knowledge by the discoveries of the science. “Victorian Compromise” is a commonly used term which needs no comments. The period was marked by freedom from wars and internal strife.

Sep 18, 2010

Puritan

History:
The half century between 1625 and 1675 is called the Puritan Period because a Puritan standard pevailed for a time in England; and all the greatest literary figure were the Puritans, thus, historically the age was one of the remendous conflicts. The puritan struggled for righteousness and liberty, and  because he prevailed, the age is one of the moral and political revolutions.

Modern

History:
It was in 1915 the old world ended- Lawrence
Moving from the realistic literature of the Victorian age into the modern literature of the early century is like moving from an arena of debate into a sea of trouble. For a number of literary movements (aestheticism, classicism, Imagism, etc) emerged in 20th century, that is why the critics are not sure to fix about fixing definite dates for the beginning and lasting of the age.

Neo-Classical or Augustan Age

History:
The period we are studying is known to us by the name, the Age of Queen Anne; but, unlike Elizabeth, this “meekly stupid” queen had practically no influence upon English literature, so the name Classic or Augustan Age is more often heard  because the poets and critics of this age believed in the works of the Latin writers, as Pope writes in Essay in Criticism:   
        “Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem   
        To copy nature is to copy them.” 
  
Poetry of the Classical school is the product of the intelligence playing upon the surface of life. It is exclusively a ‘town’ poetry made out of the interests of ‘society’ in the great centres of culture,   which makes it an age of prose and reason. It was now a fashion with the poets to follow (human) Nature, and Pope was its greatest protagonist:
        “First follow Nature, and your judgement frame   
         By her just standard, which is still the same”.       
The qualities such as mystery, imagination, romanticism, came to be discounted and replaced those related to reason and logic. It was for the first time that theoretical as well as practical criticism of drama, poetry, essay, and novel appeared,   such as Pope’s Essay In Criticism (1711), Addison’s Spectators (1711-12-14), Johnson’s Preface To Shakespeare (1765). “The idea of the modern novel seems to have been worked out largely”, says Long, in Augustan Age, in which, the classic Heroic couplet was perfected by Pope {whose “ten thousand verses’ marvelously varied within their couplets, crown the experiments of a century,” (Tillotson)} in The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. However the percept and epigram, the satire and the Mock-heroic of the Age might have been discarded by the subsequent generations of the writers, but its gift of novel continued long after the Augustan Age had gone out of fashion.

Mock Epic
Another product of the age was Mock Epic. “The true genius of mock heroic lies in travestying the serious epic, in bringing all the leading features of the epic machinery, lofty incidents, character and the style to the exaltation of a trivial Subject; the subject must no doubt have a moral bearing; but the satire ought not to be too apparent” —Courthope Mock heroic poetry takes us back to the days of Homer who is credited with the authorship of Battle of Frog and Mice but Tassoni’s Rape of the Bucket was the first successful example of the true mock heroic poem. In a masterpiece of this type The Rape of the Lock (1714), Pope views through the grandiose epic perspective a quarrel between the belles and elegants of his day over the theft of a Lady’s curl, as he notes:   
         “slight is the subject but not so the praises   
         …    …    …    …    …    …    …       
         what dire offence from amorous causes springs   
         what might contests rise from trivial things.”   
This poem has the complete epic form: there is usual opening proposition and invocation—of the goddess of poetry   
         “say what strange motives, goddess could impel   
         a well-bred lord to assult a gentle belle,”;   
the conventional supernatural ‘machinery’, represented by all the spirits of earth, air, water and fore:   
         “whether the nymphs shall break Diana’s law   
        or some frail china jar receive-flaw.”   
The term mock epic is oft applied to other dignified poetic forms which are purposely mismatched to a lowly subject: for example, to Thomas Gary’s comic “Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat” (1748).

Emergence of Novel
“Other great types of literature, like epic, drama, the romance, and the drama were first produced by other nations; but the idea of the modern novel seems to have been worked out largely on English soil.” (Long). A novel (born with Defoe in 1819) is a long prose fiction having a plot, a number of characters, and the plot developing and coming to a logical conclusion through the characters’ interaction with one another. J.B. Priestley defines a novel “as a narrative in prose treating chiefly of imagery characters and events”. Many critics divided the novel into two classes: stories and romance; the story being a form of which relates certain incidents of life with as little complexity as possible; and the romance describes life as led by strong emotions in complex and unusual circumstances,  but the critics have divided the Neo-Classical novels in the following categories:The novel started with Travelogues; the stories relating the adventures of the travelers or voyagers in unknown and unchartered seas. The earliest of them is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. The next is The Picaresque Novel in which the hero is rouge or a bad character who wanders from place to place and encounters many adversaries who are equally roguish, for example the heroine of Defoe’s Moll Flanders. The Epistolary Novel comes next in which plot develops and comes to an end through the medium of letters, i.e., Richardson’s Pamela; there is very little dialogue amongst the characters because they exchange their views and thoughts through their letters and replies. In Neo-Classical novel, the controversy between rules and taste continued because the novel had newly emerged and had no theory or rules of its own available in any ancient or Augustan period, but Fielding was only conscious artist who tried to forge a theory of the novel.

Age of Prose and Reason
“Our excellent and indispensable eighteenth century” (Johnson) was a classical age, an age of prose and reason. Actually, the ideas which developed in this age, had already taken roots in the seventeenth century, when the writers like Dryden, Waller and Denham had shown the new path. The Elizabethan age had been an age of romanticism, imaginative, and melodrama which lacked balance, but 18th century was marked by reason, good sense, refinement, wit and logicism with a fair amount of realism. It was now a fashion with the poets to follow Nature, and Pope was the greatest protagonist in this regard. By “Nature,” it was implied human Nature—a view taken by great Romanists like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats in the next two centuries. Pope advised writers to follow the Nature:   
        “First follow Nature, and your judgement frame   
          By her just standard, which is still the same”.   
Pope laid stress on the writers (poets’ in particular) following the rules set up by the ancient masters instead of carving out new grooves of writing for themselves.   
         “Who rules the old discover’d not devised,   
        Are Nature still, but Nature methodiz’d”.   
Thus, even Nature was to methodiz’d, it was too moulded within the rigid rules set by the ancients. Then Pope advises further—   
         “Learn hence for ancient rules a just esteem,    
         To copy Nature is to copy them”.   
Thus, it was basically the age of prose and reason, dominated chiefly, apart from Pope, by such celebrated prose writers as Addison, Steele, swift, Gibson, Burke, etc. It is clear that new milieu wanted a different treatment which was argumentative in nature and could be expressed only through polished prose and the best and the most suitable vehicle.

Picaresque element in the Novel

“The picaresque novel is the tale of the hardworking travelling hero, suffering from vicissitude good or bad and enduring them all.”—Edwin Muir. The word picaresque comes from the Spanish word “Picaro” meaning a rogue or a villain. A picaresque novel is a work of art/fiction which deals with the adventures of rogues and the villains, who is the central figure, plays many roles and wears many masks. The novelist narrates these episodes one by one, and thus the whole plot becomes episodic and disjointed.Picaresque fiction is realistic in manner, episodic in structure (that is, composed of sequence of events held together largely because they happened to one person), and often satiric in aim. Carvantes’ great quasi-picaresque narrative Don Quixote (1605) was the single most important progenitor of the modern novel; in it, an engaging madman who tries to live by the ideals of chivalric romance in the everyday world is used to explore the relations of illusion and reality in human life. In 1719, Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe and in 1722, Moll Flanders: both of these are still picaresque in type, in sense that their structure is episodic rather than in the organized form of a plot; while Moll is herself a colourful female version of the old picaro: “Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia.” as title page resounding informs us. But Robinson Crusoe is given an enforced unity of action by its focus on the problem of surviving on an uninhabited island, and both stories present so convincing a central character, set in so solid and detailedly realized a world, that Defoe is often credited with the writing the first novel of incident.

Criticism
Criticism of the Neo-Classical period, like its drama, poetry, essay and novel, takes off in the later seventeenth century where the Renaissance critics had left it. It was for the first time that theoretical as well as practical criticism appeared on such a large scale, such as, Pope’s Essay in Criticism (1711), Granville’s Essay on Unnatural Flights in Poetry (1701) Addison’s Spectators (1711-12-14), Fielding’s Preface to Joseph Andrews (1742), and Johnson’s Preface to Shakespeare (1765). In dramatic criticism, from Dryden to Johnson, the debate centered on the comparative assessment of the ancients and the modernistic approach. No doubt, Johnson continued to talk of the principle of unities and “nature” in place of “abstract rules.” In poetic criticism, the poets and critics alike showed greater confidence in classical rules. Hence the Neo-Classical mode of mock heroic, its love of satire and comic verse, flourished on an unprecedented scale—the only critical debate that found some favour during the period centered on the concept of “nature.” In case of novel, too, the controversy between rules and taste continued. Here, two factors made the controversy:  Firstly, the novel had newly emerged and had no theory or rules; Secondly, it emerged as literature of the middleclass, which was also new and without any tradition behind. Fielding tried to forge a theory: how to reconcile the rules of construction.

Four Wheels of Novel
The group of first four novelists of the Augustan Age—Richardson, Smollett, Fielding and Sterne—are called the four wheels of novel. The beginning of novel writing is made with an enthralling and mysterious figure, Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) who gives us travelogue novel Robinson Crusoe (1719). He regards the novel, not as a work of imagination, but as ‘a true relation,’ and even the element of fact decreases, he maintains the close realism of pseudo-fact. The combination of these qualities has given Robinson Crusoe its immediate and continuous appeal. The next development in the novel, and possibly the most important in its whole history in England, comes by the ancient, Samuel Richardson (1639-1761), who is famous for Epistolary Novel Pamela (1740-41) in which plot develops and comes to an end through the medium of letters. Richardson has suffered from the appearance of contemporary, who disliked his work, and who took an early opportunity of satirizing it, named Henry Fielding, who published Andrew Joseph (1742) to ridicule Richardson’s Pamela; he contrived this satire by revering the situation in Richardson’s novel. The next wheel, Tobias Smollett (1721-71) was Fielding’s contemporary, though he is not of equal stature. If he brought to the novel nothing that was new in form, he was able to introduce a new background, in accounts of sea in the livid days of the old Navy in Roderick Random (1748), which portrays the life of rogue hero until his marriage with the loyal, beautiful and incredible Narcissa. Of the eighteenth century novelists, the strangest, and the most variously judged, is Laurence Sterne (1713-68), who is known for Life and Opinion of Tristram Shandy (1759-67) in which the reader has to wait until the third book before the hero is born, and even then his future life remains undefined. After the work of these four masters, the stream of fiction broadens continually, until it reaches the flood with which no single intelligence and contended.

Heroic Couplet
Heroic couplet is the form in which the sense is ended with almost absolute regularity at the end of every second line, note for instance:   
        “Great wits are sure to madness near allied,   
        And thin partitions do their bounds divine.”    (Pope)
here, the sense is almost complete in the first line and the second line only gives an extension of the idea contained in the first line. This verse was introduced into English poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer (in The Legend of Good Women and most the Canterbury Tales), and has been constant use ever since. Later Shakespeare also used the couplet at the last two lines of his sonnets. Earlier, Surrey had done this. In the Neo-Classical Age, the heroic couplet was predominant English measure for all the poetic kinds; some poets, including Dryden, Pope, used it almost to the exclusion of other meters. In Restoration Age, Dryden wrote in closed couplets, in which the end of each couplet tends to coincide with the end either of a sentence or self-sufficient unit of syntax.    
        “In friendship false, implacable in hate,   
        resolve to ruin or to rule the state.”(Absalom & Achitophel)

in The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. In Romantic Age, Keats used couplets at the start of Endymion:   
        “A thing of beauty is a joy forever;   
        Its loveliness increase; it will never   
        Pass into nothingness, but still keep.”   
It is quite understandable that Keats’s couplets are not close ended, nor are his lines iambic pentameters. In sum, heroic couplet is suited mainly to satirical and narrative poetry but Prologues and epilogues were also written in couplets to create special effect.

Periodical Essay
The periodical essay was chiefly the invention of Steele (1672-1729) when on April 12, 1709 he started The Tatler, thrice in a week, the chief aim of which was “to expose the false arts of life, to pull off the disguises of cunning, vanity and affection, and to recommend a general simplicity in our dress, our discourse, and our behaviour.” The Spectator (1711), The Guardian (1712) The Free Holder (1715), The Old Whig (1719) are some periodical essays which appeared (and generally died) in the eighteenth century.  The Neo-Classical Age had seen in Addison, Steele and Johnson a prose in essay which was closer to common talk than any other species of writing in literature has ever been. The main reason for the popularity of the periodical was that it suited to the genius of the period, as much of the authors, as of the people who exhibited specific spirit and tasted in the period. An essay by Bacon consists of a few pages of concentrated wisdom, with little elaboration of the ideas expresses, but in an essay of Addison, the thought is thin and diluted, and the tendency is now towards light didacticism and now personal gossip: “it is said of Socrates, that he brought philosophy down from heaven to inhabit among men; and I shall be ambitious to have it said of me that I have brought philosophy out of closets and libraries, school and colleges, to dwell in clubs and  assemblies at tea-tables and in coffee-houses. The periodical essay was continued  in the later eighteenth century by no less a literary giant than Samuel Johnson (1709-84), whose twice weekly Rambler were a prestigious contribution to the literature of periodical essays.  After Johnson the English essay rather dwindled, and was redeemed later by the Romantic Hazlitt and Lamb, but the Romantic essay is quite different spices altogether. Addison’s collaborator in launching several periodicals of the time, Steele, not only originated periodical essays but also raised it to the status of literature.

Neo Classical Drama
In dramatic criticism from Dryden to Johnson the debate centered on the comparative assessment of the ancients and the moderns, on rules deprives from the foreign ancients and the actual practice by the native dramatists. The neoclassical dramatists were theoretically committed to the classical rules, but their reverence for Shakespeare’s plays always convinced them otherwise. They preferred the Elizabethan variety of ancient and characters, the Elizabethan mixing of tragedy and comedy, the Elizabethan poetic language. Thus, between the classical rules on one hand and the native tradition and taste on the other, the Neo-Classical critics continued their debates attacking and counterattacking.
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Spenser

Edmund spenser is considered to be the chilf of the renaissance and the reformation. His poetic reputation was recognized with the publication of the shepherd’s calendar (1579). This poem was inspired by Virgil and Theocritus. It is known for its richness and warm pictorial beauty. Spenser fell in love with Elizabeth, an Irish girl and wrote Amaretti (1594),  sonnets, in her honour.

Renaissance

Renaissance (May 29, 1453)

Renaissance is a French word which means rebirth or revival.  In literature the term “Renaissance” is used to denote the revival of ancient, classical Latin literature and culture and reawakening human mind, after the long sleep in the Middle Ages, to the glory, wonders and beauty of men’s earthly life and nature. In the opinion of Lamartine “the Renaissance is man’s discovery of himself and the universe.” Taine opines that “with the Renaissance man so long blinded, suddenly opened his eyes and saw.”

“Rebirth” or “New Learning” or as Andrew Sanders calls “Renaissance is the feeling for virtu, the fascination with what man can achieve along a single line of endeavor if he sets his mind and heart to it with sufficient fervor and lyricism enthusiasm; the interest in pride, in lust for power, in man as the master of his own destiny, challenging and vying with the gods—
“How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties!      
In form and moving how expresses and admirable!  
In action how like and angel! An apprehension how like a god!”     
and imagining that by an effort of the will he can control Fortune’s Wheel—all these are in the plays of Tudor Dynasty. Dunton calls it “Renaissance of Wonder.” Geography, History and Romance come together in the Renaissance with power effect.

It may not quite tell us "how the Renaissance began?" The story begins at a monastery in central Germany – almost certainly the Benedictine abbey of Fulda. At its gates, in the first weeks of 1417, arrived an itinerant Florentine scholar by the name of Poggio Bracciolini. A slight, genial man in his mid-30s, he had served as a papal secretary but was currently unemployed owing to the deposition of Pope John XXIII. Today Poggio is best remembered for his vituperative controversy with Lorenzo Valla (a “war of wits” much savoured by Elizabethan comic writers such as Thomas Nashe). 

The Renaissance originated in Italy, and dates back to the Turkish Conquest Constantinople on May 29, 1453. Most of the Greek Scholars, fled for safety, come to Italy and started their studies of afresh. This is known as “New Learning” or “Renaissance. The movement spread to other European countries. England come came under the impact of Renaissance and a number of scholars held their own during the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Important writers of the Renaissance were John Colet, More and Erasmus. The Renaissance movement broadened the outlook of the people and gave impetus to education. “The Renaissance was an era of striking accomplishment in painting, sculpture, music, architecture, literature, science, philosophy and technology,” Remarks Abrams. It was an age of change in the economic foundations and in the basic structure of European society and in the organization of states. And last bit not the least, the Renaissance affected to Christian church which for generation had pre-sided at the formation of civilization.

Difference Between Renaissance & Humanism
The term “Renaissance” and humanism which are often applied to the same movement have properly narrower significance. The term “Renaissance” though used by many writers to denote the whose transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern World, is more correctly applied to the Revival of Art resulting from the discovery and imitation of classic models in the 14th and 15th c. Humanism applied to the Revival of Classical literature, and was so called b its leaders, following the example Petrarch, because they held that the study of the classic “Litrae Humaniore” that is more human writings rather than the old theology was the best means of promoting the largest human interest. It was in the 16th century the word “Humanist” was going to signify one taught and worked in the “studia Humanitiates” that is grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and moral philosophy.; and distinguished form fields less concerned with the moral and imaginative aspects and activities of man, such as mathematics, natural philosophy and theology. Scholarly, humanists devoted themselves to the rediscovery and intense study of first roman and then Greek literature and culture, in particular the works of Cicero, Aristotle and Plato. Humanists recovered edited, and expounded many ancient texts in Latin and Greeks and so contributed greatly to the store of materials and idea of the European Renaissance. Out of this, intellectual ferment there emerged a view of man and a philosophy quite different from medieval scholasticism in 19th c. this strand of Renaissance through was labeled humanism. Reason, balance and a proper dignity for man were the central ideals of humanists thought. Many humanists also stressed the need for a rounded development of men’s diverse powers, physical and mental, artistic and moral as opposed to merely technical or specialized training. Matthew Arnold opponent of humanism in the Victorian Period strongly defended the predominance of human studies in general education.


Famous Writers of Renaissance











    William Shakespeare

    Shakespeare, the prince of poets or the king of dramatist, is recognized all the world over as the greatest poet and dramatist. Paying a great tribute to him, Ben Jonson writes “He was not of an age, but for all time”. For more than three hundred years his reputation has remained constant and steadfast.

    Sep 17, 2010

    Elizabethan Age


    The publication of Spenser’s Shepherd Calendar in 1579 as marking the opening of the golden age of Elizabethan age.”—Hudson . The Elizabethan Age (1558-1625) is generally regarded as the greatest in the history of English literature. Historically, we note in this age the tremendous impetus received from the renaissance, reformation, and from the exploration of the new-world.

    Such an age of thought, feeling and vigorous action, finds its best expression in the development of drama which culminating in Shakespeare, Jonson and University Wits. Though the age produced some excellent prose works, it is essentially an age of poetry, but both poetry and drama were permeated by Italian influence, which was dominated in English literature from Chaucer to the Restoration. The literature of this age is often called the literature of the Renaissance.

    The age also gives the non-dramatic poets; the center of this group is Spenser, whose Shepherd Calendar and Fairy Queen marked the appearance of the first national poet since Chaucer’s death in 1400; then comes Chapman who is noted for his completion of Marlowe’s Hero and Leander, and for his translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Sidney, besides his poetry Astrophel and Stella, wrote his prose romance Arcadia and the Defense of the Possie, one of the earliest classical critical essay.

    The Elizabethan Age is the golden age of English drama. It was now that plays came to be divided into five acts and a number of scenes. Strictly speaking the drama has two divisions: comedy and tragedy, but in this age, a mixed mode of drama was developed called Tragicomedy, a type of drama which intermingled with the both standard of tragedy and comedy. 

    The second period of the Elizabethan Drama was dominated by "University Wits" {John Lyle, Thomas Kyd, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Robert Greene, Christopher Marlowe, and Thomas Nash} for they all were university educated men. All of them began as actors, revised old plays and then became independent writers. In the Age of Elizabeth all the doubts seems to vanish from English history. The accession of popular sovereign was like sunrise after a long night, and in Milton’s words: “a noble and puissant nation, raising herself, like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks.”

    Characteristic of the age:
    The most characteristic feature of the age was the comparative religious tolerance. The frightful accesses of the religious was known as “The Thirty Years war.” The whole kingdom divided again itself—the north was largely Catholic, while the Southern counties were as strongly Protestants. It was in age of comparity social contentment. The rapid increase of the manufacturing towns gave employment to thousands who had before being idle and discounted. It was an age of dreams, of adventure, of unbounded enthusiasm. A new literature creates a new heaven to match men’s eyes. So, dreams and deeds increase side by side and the dream is ever greater than the deed. The age of Elizabeth was a time of intellectual liberty, of growing intelligence and comfort among all classes, of unbounded patriotism, and of peace at the home and abroad.

    Elizabethan Sonneteers
    Sonnet in England was imported from abroad. It was Wyatt who introduced the sonnet in England. Wyatt’s lead was accepted by Surrey whose sonnets were likewise published after his death, in the Miscellany. Wyatt was much under the spell of his model Petrarch, and out of his thirty-two sonnets, seventeen are but adaptation of Petrarch’s. surrey in a new form for his sonnets, which later was to be adopted by most of Elizabethan sonneteers, the most prominent of whom was Shakespeare. Surrey’s sonnets have a tenderness and grace, occasional lyrical melody, and genuine-looking sentiments which are absent from Wyatt’s. It was left for Thomas Watson to recall first the attention of the readers to the sonnet after Wyatt and Surrey.
    The Italian plan of writing sonnets in sequences was adopted by Spenser also. His Amoretti, a series of 88 sonnets describe the progress of his love for Elizabeth Boyle, whom he married in 1594. It is with Sidney’s work that the popular vogue of the sonnet began. The vogue remained in full swing till the end of the 16th C. Sidney’s most important was his sonnet sequence, Astrophel and Stella which appeared in 1591. It comprised one hundred and eight sonnets and eleven songs. It is Sidney told the story of his unrequited love for Penelope. Sidney’s sentiments in his sonnet sequence are partly real and partly conventional. A critic avers that “Sidney writes not because it a pleasant and accomplished thing to do but because he roust. His sonnets let out of the blood.”

    Formally considered, Sidney’s sonnets are different from both the Shakespearean and Petrarchan kind. He does not always adhere to the same pattern. Samuel Daniel was another poet who wrote sonnets to b in the fashion, without conviction and probably, without a real mistress to sing. His sonnets in Delia are merely chill appeals but the language of these sonnets is usually pure and their versification correct. Michael Drayton’s collection Idea hardly gives the impression of a true passion, shows the little delicacy, and is often vulgar yet he is versatile and more than once ingenious to the point of the fantastic. Constable’s sonnets have the charm of delicate fancy and scholarly elegance. Shakespeare’s sonnets are a class by themselves. The collection is unequal and some of sonnets are merely “clever,” being fashionable exercise in quibbles and conceits common to the generality of the sonneteers. But the best of them are worthy of the great poet, and in their high imaginative quality. Felicity of diction and lyrical music, are unequalled in Elizabethan poetry.

    Elizabethan Theatre
    There were not many theatres during the Elizabethan Age (1568-1625). At the time of Shakespeare there not probably more than public theatre in English, all in London and they were built according to the design of inn yards of the period which had been found marvelously convenient presentation of plays. The theatres of that time were circular and octagon in shape. The main part of the auditorium was the large round pit without a roof, in which the poor people stood. Such people were generally fir the common message at that time were called “Groundings” and Encircling this bit, round the walls, were three balconies covered on the top but not in the front and containing seats.

    In the Elizabethan theatres stage was large jutting for into the pit, and was without scenery but the most meager presentation. Hence, it made no difference that people stood at the side of the stage as well as in front. The scenery was created in the imagination of the audience by the words of the Characters on the play. In the absence of the curtains, the end of a scene was frequently shown by rhyming lines. Just as the scenery had to be put into the play, so had entrances and exists to be arranged as part of the play. The stage floor was generally equipped a trap door for the sudden appearance and disappearance of the ghost and spirits. At the back of the stage was a recess and this was curtained and would be shut off when desired. Above the recess was balcony which served for castle walls and upper room and other such scenes. It appears that this too could be curtained off.

    The young “bloods’ of the day actually hired stools round the stage itself. No women were allowed to act by law. Consequently, the women’s parts were taken by the boys with unbroken voices. Plays were not acted in the period costumes. Thus, all Shakespeare’s plays were first acted in Modern Dress. It must not be forgotten that the language of the plays fits in with the Elizabethan costumes worn by the actor’s originally. Although there was no scenery yet the costumes were quite lavish. On days when the theatre was open, a flag was shown from the torrents and when the play is about to begin, a trumpet was sounded.

    University Wits
    The Pre-Shakespearean university dramatists are known as “University wits”, they are so called because they were associated with the university of Cambridge or Oxford. The constellation consists minor stars like Kyd, Lyly, Peele, Greene, Lodge and Nash, all of whom revolved round the central son Marlowe. These university men usually actors as well as dramatists. They knew the stage and the audience and in writings their plays they remembered not only the actor’s part but also the audiences love for stories and brave spectacle. Their training begins as actors and then they revised old plays and finally become independent writers. They often worked together, as Shakespeare works with Marlowe and Fletcher either in revising old plays or in creating new ones they had a common score of material and characters and so we find frequent repetition of names in their plays.

    They were romantic in their attitude and represented the spirit of the Renaissance. They were Bohemian in characterization. They likes Bohemian life in the Grub Street of their day. Their contribution to the literature is as follows:
    1. They contributed to the formulation of the romantic comedy which blossomed forth in the hands of Shakespeare. However, the early comedies lacked humour.
    2. They, in spite of their lose plots, made some advance in plot construction and in harmonizing the different threads of their stories into a perfect whole.
    3. They prepared the ground for the historical plays.
    4. They had fondness for heroic themes like Tamberlaine.
    5. They prepared the way for the later tragedies.
    6. They added poetry to dramatic production
    7. They made definite improvement in the art of characterization. 
    Famous Writers of Elizabethan Age

      Age of Chaucer

      “Homilies, sermons in prose and verse, translation of the Psalms or parts of the Bible……fill the pages which form the  mass of what we may be called English literature until about the middle of the fourteenth century,” Rickett. And its first part is The Age of Chaucer (1340-1400), which “is the Age of unrest and transition, (Rickett).”


      The fourteenth century brightly opened for industrial England but the glory was overtaken by plague, the Black Death (1348-49), as a result most of the laborers escaped death, left the country. The prestige of the Church was, in truth, beginning to decline, and, then came the birth of parliament. The literary moment of the age clearly reflected by five famous poets, in which, Langland, voicing the social discontent, preaching the equality of men and the dignity of labor; Wyclif, giving the Gospel to the people in their own tongue; Gower criticizing the vigorous life and plainly afraid of its consequences; Mandeville romancing about the wonders to be seen abroad; and Chaucer, sharing in all the stirring life of the times, and reflecting it in literature as no other but Shakespeare had ever done.

      There is little to record about the prose which includes Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe; Wyclif’s Bible, but Mandeville’s Travels and Travellers keeps its place as the first English prose classic. The greatest gift of the age was “the heroic couplet Chaucer introduced into English verse, the rhyme royal he invented”, and its example is The Canterbury Tales which shows, Chaucer’s Age is still characteristically medieval, marked the persistence of chivalry.  In this Age, for the first time, the major poets wrote poetry in the native language, and make it a rival to the dominant French; as a result, literature came to be written which was read alike by all the classes of the literate.  Chaucer write
      Through me men gon into that blysful place
      Of hertes hele and dedly woundes cure;
      Through me men gon unto the welle of grace 

      “With Chaucer was born our real poetry” (Arnold) who has “a fondness for long speeches and pedantic digression…long explanation when none were necessary” (Albert). Chaucer was much occupied by divers official duties which all helped to increase his knowledge of humanity and of affairs, and gave him that intimate, sympathetic acquaintance with men and women which was the raw stuff of his final accomplishment—The Canterbury Tales, an immense work of one hundred and twenty-eight tales, which covers the whole life of England, through 32 characters. The Canterbury Tales (c.1387-1400) is a cycle of linked tales told by a group of pilgrims who meet in a London tavern before their pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas a Becket in Canterbury. The Canterbury Tales had been essentially romantic, and so had never attempted to the study of men and women as they are so that the reader recognizes them, not as ideal heroes, but as his own neighbours. The work ends with a kindly farewell form the poet to his reader, and so “here taketh the makere of this book his leve”  In The Canterbury Tales it appears that he did not have a very high opinion of woman, but we find a remark respectable to women when he says about the Squire, Knight’s son:   
      “and born him well, as of so litel space;
      in hope to standen in his lady grace.”

      The critics have found the seed of the novel in The Canterbury Tales which is famous for the ten syllable rhyming couplets, which makes him, as Ward points out, “the first painter of character” that is why “Chaucer is to be regarded as English first story-teller as well as first modern poet,” cries W.J. Long. The Canterbury Tales had been essentially romantic, and so had never attempted to the study of men and women as they are so that the reader recognizes them, not as ideal heroes, but as his own neighbours. The work ends with a kindly farewell form the poet to his reader, and so “here taketh the makere of this book his leve.”

      The most important thing that Chaucer did for English poetry was to bring a healthy realism to it. He brought poetry closer to nature, and or reality. He began as his contemporaries did, with dream visions and allegorical works. But gradually he reached the conclusion that nothing could be as nature herself. He comes to look upon the world of man. He set about reproducing it in his work. He became a painter of life in words. Chaucer’s broad and humane vision of life helped him in his portraiture of life. Sympathizing with the follies of men and women of average standards, he never riles and rants in his writings. He lets his character’s speak for themself. He is the pioneer of that set of people who look upon the world with indulgent, tolerant and amused eyes.

      Chaucer is by universal consent the first great English humorist. His is a healthy humour like that of Shakespeare and Fielding that depends for its effect on strong commonsense. Chaucer had a sound mind and was capable of playing with humanity. He had so much sorrow in his life that could get down in his heart and weaken his intelligence or dim is sight. Chaucer had a free and open mind. He was not afraid, on occasion, of questioning even the ways of God to men. In The Knights’s Tale, he shows his poignant awareness of the baffling problem of pain and evil in the world. Chaucer found English a dry, uncouth brick but left it marble—beautiful and full of liquid luster. He found it a dialect and made it a Standard English of his own day. In his works, he appears as a great picture painter, as an observer whose aim was to see and not to reform, and as a representative of his century.

      He was a great reformer and observer of men and had an extraordinary insight into human nature. “Chaucer sees things”, writes Legouis, “as they are, and paints them as he sees them.” He saw all sorts of men—rogues, hypocrites and posers—and had a soft corner in his heart for all of them. All of Chaucer’s characters are true to life and cause willing suspension of disbelief. Chaucer considered the first poet of English literature. In his poetry we find the great qualities of simplicity, clarity, melody and harmony which arouse fellow feeling and brotherly affection in the heart of the reader. Chaucer’s characters are a description of eternal principles” says Blake. They are not for one age but for all ages.

      The world which Chaucer had created in the geography of imagination is as fresh as ever or even more fresh than the world in which we live. There is no doubt about Chaucer’s help to dramatist. Shakespeare is borrowing of a plot for one of his complicated plays, Troilus and Cressida from Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida. Chaucer’s The Prologue may be described as “a novel of miniature”. It ahs an unrivalled richness and variety in the characterization, an abundant fund of humour, and a full representation of real life. He had the sweetness of Goldsmith, the compassionate realism and humour of Fielding, and the high chivalrous tone of Scott. Thus we follow the point fro Chesterton, that “There was ever a man who was more of a Maker than Chaucer.” Shakespeare and Milton were the greatest sons of their country; but Chaucer was the father of his country.

      Paul Heyse

      Many famous writers from several countries have been proposed for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy has awarded it to a writer whose nomination has been supported by more than sixty German experts on art, literature, and philosophy.

      Sep 16, 2010

      Swami Vivekananda Conquered the World with Religion

      This was the Day on which Swami Vivekananda gave the world-famous speech  in 1893 at Chicago in the World Parliament of Religions. We are celebrating it as "Digvijay Divas"; Swami Vivekananda conquered the world on this day with his spirituality in practice and that too at a time when India was not even independent.

      Anglo Norman

      Anglo-Norman or Christian Age or Conquest of England

      The world’s history shows that without a great nationality a great literature is impossible—W.J. Long

      It may be possible that Norman believes in the above philosophy so he decides to make the conquest of England. Conquest means, as Oxford Dictionary defines it, “act of taking control of a country, city, etc, by force.” At the battle of Hastings (1066) the powerful monarchy of the last Saxon King, Harold, was broken and William, the duke of Normandy, becomes the master of England.

      Anglo Saxon

      OUR FIRST SPEECH. 
      Our first recorded speech begins with the songs of Widsith and Deor, which the Anglo-Saxons may have brought with them when they first conquered Britain. In Old English, few books were written; most of those were written in Latin, for religious purposes. Most of those that got written have disappeared. Four books of Old English poetry exist today. All seem to have been written about the year 1000. First (the so-called Junius Manuscript) contains stories from the Old Testament turned into Old English poetry: Genesis, Exodus, and Daniel. Second (The Vercelli Book, which turned up, rather mysteriously, in a small town in northern Italy) contains Christian poems based on themes from the New Testament or lives of saints; the best known of these is the “Dream of  the Rood,” spoken by the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Third (The Exeter Book) is a kind of anthology of different short poems; it contains “The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer,” and “The Wife’s Lament.” The fourth (known as the Cotton Manuscript, or, more formally, MS Cotton Vitellius A. xv), contains Beowulf. This manuscript was badly burned in 1731; today it is carefully preserved in the British Museum, in London, but its edges keep flaking off, making it harder and harder to read.

      History of Newspaper & Printing

      Nespaper History
      • 59 B.C.: Acta Diurna the first newspaper is published in Rome.
      • 1556: First monthly newspaper Notizie Scritte published in Venice.
      • 1605: First printed newspaper published weekly in Antwerp called Relation.
      • 1631: The first French newspaper published, the Gazette.

      Sep 15, 2010

      TS Eliot's Interview

      From The Paris Review
      The interview took place in New York, at the apartment of Mrs. Louis Henry Cohn, of House of Books, Ltd., who is a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Eliot. The bookcases of the attractive living room contain a remarkable collection of modern authors. On a wall near the entrance hangs a drawing of Mr. Eliot, done by his sister-in-law, Mrs. Henry Ware Eliot. An inscribed wedding photograph of the Eliots stands in a silver frame on a table.

      Sep 14, 2010

      Salman Rushdie supports mosque near Ground Zero

      NEWS:
      September 13,2010
      New York: Controversial Indian-origin author Salman Rushdie has spoken out in support of a mosque near Ground Zero, an issue that has sparked a religious row in US amid opinion polls suggesting that majority of Americans oppose it.

      Sep 13, 2010

      Indian Women in Literature

      * 1905: The Golden Threshold, published in the United Kingdom
      * 1912: The Bird of Time: Songs of Life, Death & the Spring, published in London.
      * 1917: The Broken Wing: Songs of Love, Death and the Spring, including "The Gift of India" (first read in public in 1915)
      * 1943: The Sceptred Flute: Songs of India, Allahabad: Kitabistan, posthumously published
      * 1961: The Feather of the Dawn, posthumously published, edited by her daughter, Padmaja Naidu

      13th Century

      Working on Page

      Sep 12, 2010

      100 Best Novels
       By Boards List

         1. ULYSSES by James Joyce
         2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
         3. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
         4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
         5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
         6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
         7. CATCH-22

      Sep 8, 2010

      JOSEPH CONRAD: A LIFE

      OUT OF THE FOG
      JOSEPH CONRAD: A LIFE


      By Zdzislaw Najder
      (Translated by Halina Najder)
      (Boydell & Brewer 745pp)
      THE SEVERAL LIVES OF JOSEPH CONRAD
      By John Stape
      (William Heinemann 378pp)

      IF EXILE AND alienation are the defining characteristics of twentieth-century literature, Joseph Conrad is the quintessential twentieth-century writer. From Roman poets to modern playwrights, many have written well in places and languages other than their own, but Conrad was more deracinated than most. The man who has been called the best French novelist in English (a  compliment also paid to Henry James and Ford Madox Ford) was a Pole from what is now the Ukraine, stripped by circumstance of his culture, his class, his family, his language, his country, and even his name. But against these blows of fate Conrad  fought back in original ways. Born in the landlocked backlands of Central Europe, he made a living for nearly twenty years working tramp steamers for the British merchant navy. Schooled in a rough and ready way of life, he changed tack at thirty-seven, started writing in English and published his first novel at thirty-eight. Remaining single until he was thirty-nine, he married a workingclass girl from London and became a family man, ending his life as a rich and respected member of the Establishment with a mansion in Kent which looks not unlike a Polish manor-house. Quite a journey.

      As usual with Conrad, this story – poor refugee unexpectedly makes good – is not quite what it seems. Konrad Korzeniowski had small private means and some connections to help him make his way in the world, not the normal lot of a working man in the late nineteenth century. He was the son of upper-middle-class parents from the radical intelligentsia, so it could be argued that the ordinary seaman who became a serious, politically aware novelist with a country estate was not rising in the world but returning to his proper milieu: socially and intellectually his friend H G Wells made a far greater leap, from the lower middle class to the elite. The same consistency of purpose applies to his private life. Given his background, Conrad’s marriage might look like a solecism but, despite a botched proposal, it seems to have been a result of the realism

      which coloured almost everything he did in maturity. His wife later complained of his disorganisation in domestic matters, and he was inclined to fretfulness and hypochondria, but in the important affairs of life Conrad chose wisely. His decision to write in English rather than Polish or even French, sometimes supposed to be a more natural medium for émigré Poles, reflects inter alia practical good sense. Like any good sailor, Conrad had a feeling for prevailing weather.

      Britain was the only superpower in the second half of the nineteenth century. Its language and literature reached round the world like no  other. Were Conrad alive today, he might well choose to become an American for similar reasons. Nevertheless, Conrad’s exotic background, his experience at sea (so far removed from the solitude and safety of a writer’s desk), the curious trajectory of his career,  and the faint but persistent air of foreign-ness which hangs about him and his work, can together make him seem at times as mysterious and unfathomable as figures in his own fiction. Unfriendly critics put this mystery down to  nothing more than Conrad’s opulent – they would say portentous, unidiomatic and opaque – prose style, so neatly skewered in  Beerbohm’s Christmas Garland parody. Biographers naturally focus instead on their subject’s personal elusiveness; and it is  true that contemporaries as diverse as James, Stevenson, Maugham, Bennett, Wells, Kipling, Galsworthy, Woolf, Joyce, Ford and  Lawrence have for us now the sharp edges of caricature compared with Conrad’s misty outline, the sense he gives, despite several published memoirs and many biographies, of unrevealed depths and unspoken knowledge as wor rying as Kurtz’s unnameable horror in Heart of Darkness.

      Perhaps such elusiveness should not surprise. Circumspection is what we might expect from someone with Conrad’s difficult past. His troubles started early. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that his parents died for their beliefs: Joseph was barely out of infancy when they were imprisoned and exiled for participation in a Polish uprising against the Russians. They soon declined into ill health and died. Well might their orphaned offspring – eight when his mother died, twelve when his father followed her – have the oppressive sense we find in his novels that life is complex, delusive, difficult, unjust and precarious, hope turning easily to defeat, enterprise to tragedy. He may also have taken from the example of his parents the supremely ambiguous lesson that without principles there is no life worth living; with them, possibly no life at all. Despite fluctuations in popularity and  critical esteem,  Conrad has been the subject of many serious studies since his own time. Most have been English or American, which is perhaps why Zdzislaw Najder’s biography made such an impact when it first appeared in 1983. Here was someone looking at Conrad from the inside.

      Professor Najder hails from the sort of Polish intelligentsia that Conrad’s parents might have recognised. Having experienced persecution and exile at the hands of a Russian autocrat, he understands tyranny and the moral obliquity it entails at every level, how it enters into the souls of victims and tyrants alike, shaping their vision of themselves, their sense of history and their understanding of necessity. In this respect he identifies with his subject and the identification is fruitful. Though Najder specifically forswears literary criticism, the way his account of Conrad bears on the novels is clear enough. English by adoption, French by inclination, in Najder’s portrait Conrad remains to the end not just a Pole but a child of the tragic 1860s. We are invited to read the novels in the light of that time and the acute sense their author took away from it of the chaos which lies just below the surface of things.

      Aware, perhaps, that in the wake of critics such as Leavis and Zaubel, Anglophone readers think of Conrad primarily as moralist and intellectual, Najder is at pains to emphasise other qualities, quoting the novelist’s grandmother at the beginning and end of his book to the effect that the boy would grow up to be ‘a man of great heart’. The framing of the text with these words is apposite, ‘heart’ here signifying not only feeling but breadth of character. This biography is not so much a ‘Life and Works’ as the portrait of a remarkable human being in his native milieu and the story of how he adapted to a very different environment. Najder’s Conrad is a man of deep emotions under a mask of circumspection – a mask which the adopted manners of a cool English gentleman supplied to perfection. In fact, as friends noted, Conrad was sometimes far from cool, relapsing in private into the manner Englishmen associate with excitable foreigners, even waving his arms and jabbering. But the mask was essential. Like the sea’s surface and its depths, mask and reality coexisted in a dynamic tensile relationship which bore The Conrads: poles apart fruit in the novels.

      Where Najder concentrates on building up a detailed portrait of Conrad using every scrap of available information, the new biography by John Stape is a much slighter affair. At only a third of the length of Najder’s, his book abjures thoroughness in favour of brisk narrative. That said, what he loses in scope and detail he gains in accessibility. The Mittel-Europa seriousness of Najder gives way in Stape to a lighter touch which allows him to cover the inevitable longueurs of a writer’s life more fleetly than Najder, though it diminishes Conrad’s stature by making us feel that, after all, he was just another novelist with the usual worries about sales and houses and fallow periods and troublesome children. Najder’s Conrad is a grander figure altogether: he looms, as James might have said. Stape’s is more recognisably the workaday man of letters. Both have their truth. Najder’s book has been extensively revised since its original appearance to accommodate new research, but only Conrad specialists are likely to notice the differences. Anyone wanting a good brief introduction will be happy with Stape’s life. Both biographers have avoided commentary on the novels, so for detailed critical discussion you
      will have to look elsewhere.

      Sep 4, 2010

      Works of Carol Ann Duffy

      Carol Ann Duffy, CBE, FRSL (born 23 December 1955 in Glasgow) is a Scottish poet and playwright. She is Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the Manchester Metropolitan University, and was appointed Britain's poet laureate in May 2009. She is the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly bisexual person to hold the position, as well as the first laureate to be chosen in the 21st century.

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