Revistas modernistas: un sitio para consultar

The Modernist Journals Project es un proyecto de digitalización de las principales revistas culturales del modernismo anglosajón. El sitios admite bajar el material en formato pdf.  Una introducción a BLAST que podrán completar con su consulta online:

On July 1, 1914 — a miserable day of thunderstorms and the hottest day of the year — a new little magazine burst upon London. Its cover was described by the Chicago modernist magazine Little Review as “something between magenta and lavender, about the colour of a sick headache,” while the Pall Mall Gazette jibed that its color was “chill flannelette pink,” like “the catalogue of some cheap Eastend draper, and its contents are of the shoddy sort that constitutes the Eastend draper’s stock” (qtd. in O’Keeffe 157). Oversized black capital letters cut diagonally across the cover with the British expletive “BLAST.” The magazine featured a sharply worded, dramatic, often bitingly humorous manifesto that began, “BLAST First (from politeness) ENGLAND,” and it went on to “blast” the entire Victorian age, much of the British art world, British humor, France, and a wide range of other targets. It then “blessed” many of those same targets, yet with qualifications that delineated fairly consistent polemical positions.

The manifesto, written by Blast’s editor, Wyndham Lewis, was signed by a group of young writers and artists: Richard Aldington, Malcolm Arbuthnot, Lawrence Atkinson, Henri Gaudier-BrzeskaJessica DismorrCuthbert HamiltonEzra PoundWilliam Roberts, Helen Saunders, Edward Wadsworth, and Wyndham Lewis. This list of signatories does not reflect the level of unity and coordination often signaled by the manifesto genre. Few of those named had taken a serious role in the creation of the magazine or of the manifesto. As Richard Cork puts it, “Aldington probably summed up the attitude of the others by recording, in the same year, that Mr Lewis has carefully and wittily compiled a series of manifestos, to which we have all gleefully applied our names” (Cork 246). William Roberts later noted that “The first knowledge I had of a Vorticist Manifesto’s existence was when Lewis, one fine Sunday morning in the summer of 1914, knocked at my door and placed in my hands this chubby, rosy, problem-child Blast” (qtd. in Cork 247). But it was important for the magazine to convey a sense of a cohesive and effective avant-garde group, even if “Vorticism” could only vaguely be said to exist. Just five years before, another avant-garde impresario, F. T. Marinetti, had published in the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro a manifesto and account of the founding of another avant-garde group, the Italian Futurists. At the time, the Futurists as a group did not even exist — or, if it did, Marinetti was both its leader and its only member. Marinetti had more or less created the Futurists ex nihilo by publishing the manifesto and asserting their existence. Similarly, Lewis would later say that “Vorticism, in fact, was what I, personally, did and said, at a certain period” (qtd. in Wees 3). While Lewis exaggerates in equating Vorticism entirely with his own personal efforts, there was certainly something P. T. Barnum-like in Lewis’s and Marinetti’s efforts to manufacture an audience for their enterprises. Indeed, avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century owed a debt to the rapidly developing promotional culture of the modern industrial West — a debt that Blast, like the publications of the Italian Futurists, openly acknowledged.

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British Poetry Since 1945

Since 1945 British poetry has moved steadily from what many regard as twentieth century parochial to a twenty-first century international. In the space of little more than fifty years the insular, clear verse of mainland English Britain has changed from being a centralist and predominantly male, seemingly academic practice to become a multi-hued, post-modern, cultural entertainment, available to all. Some observers see this as liberating. Others regard it as more of a descent into vernacular sprawl. But, as ever, reality cannot be so readily defined. British poetry here is regarded as writing from Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England in the English language. Scots Gaelic and Welsh language poetries are excluded as is work from the Irish Republic.

During the late forties the dominance of the pre-war modernists like F.S.Flint (1885-1960) and the uncontroversial Georgians such as Walter de la Mare (1873-1956), and W.H.Davies (1871-1940) who used their verse to depict a vanishing rural and domestic scene was largely overthrown. The Second World War and the shattering of Europe saw to that. The cerebral surrealists, David Gascoyne (1916-) among them, had driven into a blind alley. When the war ended the new poetry which emerged still bore traces of the measured and uneventful thirties verse that had gone before it. Poets of what became known as the neo-Romantic movement, Vernon Watkins (1906-1967), W.S.Graham (1918-1986), Patricia Beer (1919-), George Barker (1913-1991) and John Heath-Stubbs (1918-) and others, wrote as if the British world had not changed irrevocably. The influence of pre-war founder figures W.B.Yeats (1865-1939), T.S.Eliot (1888 – 1965), Edwin Muir (1887-1959), Louis MacNeice (1907-1963), W.H.Auden (1907-1973), and Robert Graves (1895-1985) remained strong. The modernists David Jones (1895-1974) and Basil Bunting (1900-1985), with Hugh MacDiarmid (C.M.Greive – 1892-1978) in Scotland, stayed outsider forces. In Wales the Thomases, Dylan (1914-1953) and R.S. (1913-2000), made great marks on the map. But the poetry was not yet a true product of its times.

The reaction came in the early fifties, and soon after Dylan Thomas’s death in 1953, The Movement as the new tendency was called had obtained a coherence. The work of its poets nurtured rationality, was inhospitable to myth, was conversationally pitched (although lacking the speech rhythms of American counterparts like William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)) and was deliberately formal and clear. Movement poets opposed modernism and had little truck with international influences. They regarded themselves as a direct continuation of mainstream English tradition. There were few sparks but much temperate, slow reflection. Members, yoked together somewhat artificially, have not, however, all remained true to their first principles. Thom Gunn (1929-) and Donald Davie (1922-1995) went on to encompass the whole gamut of American, open field and Black Mountain writing with Gunn using syllabic meters and Davie becoming an interpreter of Pound. But at the centre a tight stiff-lipped Englishness glowed in the work of Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) John Wain (1925-1994), Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985), D.J.Enright (1920-), and Elizabeth Jennings (1926-). The anthology of the period was Robert Conquest’s (1917-) New Lines (1956). Dannie Abse (1923-), himself a Movement fellow-traveller, suggests that «the pitch, tone, strategy, and bias of the Movement poets has predominated, with modifications, to the present day» (The Hutchinson Book of Post-War British Poets, 1989, p xiii) and as far as mainstream English poetry is concerned he is more or less correct. There has been something about the English suspicion of modernism and insistence on form, often at the expense of content, that has sidelined it on the world stage. While other literatures accommodated mercurial change mainstream English poetry stuck with decorative, rational discourse. But on the fringes things were different.

The Movement had its significant outsiders. Stevie Smith (1902-1971) was a total original who wrote «like William Blake rewritten by Ogden Nash» (Anthony Thwaite – Poetry Today, 1996, p 28). Other poets, less hostile to romanticism, were also steadily making their mark – Jon Silkin (1930-1998), Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963), and two of Britain’s greatest twentieth-century poets, Geoffrey Hill (1932 – ) and Ted Hughes (1930 – 1998), all appeared during the formal English fifties. Hughes, the gritty Yorkshire Poet Laureate engaged the primordial struggle and won. Hill’s dense, formidable poetry became, for some, the highest achievement of late twentieth-century English verse.

The Group was a movement which coalesced around nothing more revolutionary than the desire to discuss. Meeting under the chairmanship of first Philip Hobsbaum (1932-) in Cambridge and later Edward Lucie-Smith (1933-) in London the Group had members who were to form the bedrock from which Michael Horovitz’s (1935 – ) Children of Albion (1969) would later spring. Working largely in the late fifties and early sixties poets such as Peter Porter (1929-), George MacBeth (1932-1992), Alan Brownjohn (1931-), Martin Bell (1918-1978), B.S.Johnson (1933-1973) and Peter Redgrove (1932-) met to discuss how verse was. As with Joan Littlewood’s approach to theatre where the workshop assumed more significance than the script so the Group poets honed their work in an atmosphere of trenchant criticism, sobriety and mutual esteem (and some say scar-leaving nastiness). The work was largely Movement tradition with side-glances at innovation. MacBeth, in particular, was keen to embrace some of the structural changes he’d seen arrive from Europe.

As the smooth, safe fifties moved into the revolutionary sixties the critic A. Alvarez (1929-) united what he saw as the new poetry in an anthology of the same name (The New Poetry, 1962). Here Group and Movement poets, supplemented by other emerging voices such as Michael Hamburger (1924-), Christopher Middleton (1926-), Charles Tomlinson (1927-), Ted Walker (1934-), Iain Crichton Smith (1928-), Norman MacCaig (1910-1996), Ted Hughes, R.S.Thomas and others were joined in a spirit of urgency and the poet’s «ability and willingness to face the full range of his experience with his full intelligence». Alvarez claimed that the New Poetry claimed to be beyond gentility. Looking back on it now the work looks depressingly similar to that which went before – British poetry tracking a gentle English groove. Alvarez’s confessional Americans John Berryman (1914-1972) and Robert Lowell (1917-1977) had no counterparts, except perhaps that dynamic duo, Hughes and Plath.

But explosion was around the corner. After a brief dalliance with jazz and stage performances, inspired largely by the Americans Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) (1934-) and Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), (Christopher Logue (1926-), Dannie Abse(1923-), and Roy Fisher (1930-) were among UK exponents), British poetry took its vital left turn. Across the western world cultural values were shifting. The old order, knocked back by two world wars and the fall of empires, was finally teetering. In America the Beat Generation, who valued spirituality over formality, and freedom over regulation, carried the torch. Here – starting with Mike Horovitz’s celebrated Albert Hall poetry reading of 1965 – the Underground became, to some, the way on. Valuing open forms and producing an anti-hierarchical, anti-war protest poetry the Underground thumbed its nose at centralist values and took its own little mag, alternative route to the people. A poetry built on wild times, popular readings and independent distribution systems exploded across the UK. Led by the Liverpool poets (Adrian Henri (1932- 2001), Roger McGough (1937-) and Brian Patten (1946-) on the back of the Beatles, and aided by Adrian Mitchell (1932-), Jeff Nuttall (1933-), Tom Pickard (1946-) and others, Underground poetry became verse’s acceptable popular face. Poetry was removing itself from its male-dominated and often academic metropolitan centres. Mike Horovitz’s Penguin anthology of the period, Children of Albion, sold by the cart load.

Not that the Underground was poetry’s only route forward. A British dimension to the world-wide concrete poetry movement appeared in the sixties work of Scottish poets Iain Hamilton Finlay (1925-) and Edwin Morgan (1920-), the Benedictine monk Dom Sylvester Houedard (1925-1992) artists Tom Phillips (1937-) and John Furnival (1933-), as well as sound and found poets such as Bob Cobbing (1920-), Peter Mayer (1933-) and the London-resident French master Henri Chopin (1922-). These «experimental» poets and their followers (Peter Finch (1947-), Tom Leonard (1944-), Paula Claire (1945-) allied themselves with the Underground in their assault on the establishment. The ousting of the mainstream from the august London Poetry Society during the early seventies was a classic example of the new overwriting the old. The Poetry Review, the UK’s longest-lived poetry journal (founded 1908) and an unstinting supporter of established values was taken over by Eric Mottram (1924-1995), a fervent supporter of expanded consciousness and alternative verse.

In the eastern counties, loosely centred around the magazine Grosseteste Review, a group of poets, most of them attached to university English departments and enamoured of American models found themselves constituting what became known as the Cambridge School, poetry united by its non-metropolitan axis and its foregrounding of language over discourse. Andrew Crozier (1943-), John James (1939-), Veronica Forrest-Thomson (1947-1975), Douglas Oliver (1937-2000), John Riley (1937-1978), J.H.Prynne (1936-), and Peter Riley (1940-) were some of the leading practitioners.

Outside these ‘lunatic fringes’, as they were derisively referred to by poets adhering to the traditional centre, the English mainstream continued, almost as if nothing else was going on. New poets, many based well away from London, began to add a regional veneer to the UK’s Georgian gentility. Tony Harrison’s (1937-) hard-edged northern realism was supplemented by Douglas Dunn’s (1942-) well-wrought, working-class observations from Hull.

As the seventies turned to the eighties the experimenters became the neo-modernists. Modernism’s apparent sterility did not prevent the emergence of a whole new tranche of writers ploughing the furrow initiated by Basil Bunting (1900-1985) and David Jones (1895-1974). Allen Fisher (1944-), Denise Riley (1948-), Barry MacSweeney (1948-2000), Lee Harwood (1939-), Chris Torrance (1941-), Peter Didsbury (1946-) and others, often published by the Ferry and Fulcrum Presses, showed that British poetry was never to fall back on having simply one trick.

In reaction, inevitably, the Empire struck back. In 1982 mainstream neo-Georgian Andrew Motion (1952-) (later to become one of Britain’s greatest successes as Poet Laureate, succeeding Ted Hughes in the role in 1998) and Blake Morrison (1950-) produced the Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, an anthology which makes its point more by who it left out than who went in. Pop poetry may have been doing well in the clubs while neo-modernists filled the small presses yet here was proof that formalism, structure, traditional meaning and outright clarity were not qualities that had left these lands. The expected major voices of Seamus Heaney (1939-), Tony Harrison and Douglas Dunn were joined, among others, by Hugo Williams (1942-), Michael Longley (1939-), Tom Paulin (1949-), Anne Stevenson (1933-) Fleur Adcock (1934-), James Fenton (1949-), Carol Rumens (1943-), Craig Raine (1944-) and Christopher Reid (1950-). This final pair also briefly found fame when they invented the Martian school of overblown metaphor. The centre once more held, although Larkin could not see what it was that glued it together.

Steady immigration to the UK over a long period was by the eighties affecting its literature. Immigrants like Linton Kwesi Johnson (1952-) drove in new, anti-authoritarian values, made non-standard orthography acceptable and, by allying himself with black music, produced a poetry that, in Britain, was pretty much like nothing else. Style and content were matched in importance by delivery. Acceptability by academic institutions came well down the list. British black writing’s best-known early exponent, James Berry (1924-), edited the first anthology. The movement grew to include many, emerging, second-generation black Britons as well as more who had been resident here for a considerable time. Poets such as Benjamin Zephaniah (1958-), John Agard (1949-), Grace Nichols (1950-), Jackie Kay (1961-), Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze (1956-), and others readily crossed the racial divide by producing a verse whose values proved utterly beguiling to those, to use Norman Mailer’s term, white Negroes who disliked prejudice, authority and the police almost as much as the British Caribbean Blacks. British Asian poetry, extant but minimal, has hitherto fared much worse.

Continued assaults on the citadel of centralist tradition led, by early nineties, to somewhat of a poetry boom. The media, whipping the storm, suggested that poetry might be the new rock’n’roll. Pop stars began to admit to liking verse with the odd one or two to actually writing it. The trend of allying verse with songwriting set by Bob Dylan continued. The new poets of the period ranged from the many-talented and formally experimental Peter Reading (1946-) to acceptable neo-traditionalists such as David Constantine (1944-) Selima Hill (1945-), Kit Wright (1944-), Bernard O’Donoghue (1945-), Sean O’Brien (1952-), Michael Donaghy (1954-), Michael Hofmann (1957-), Carol Ann Duffy (1955-), Simon Armitage (1963-), and Don Paterson (1963-). The culture was becoming plural. For the first time since the pre-war days of Dylan Thomas the Celtic fringes were on the rise. In the fifteen years since 1990 being an Irish or a Scots poet (yet curiously not a Welsh poet) has carried with it considerable advantage. British culture now values its parts more strongly than its whole. For good post-Modernists the concerns of minorities, linguistic and sexual orientation, origin and gender have all become significant. Much of the early nineties mainstream stance is evident in the output of presses like Carcanet and Bloodaxe and is gathered in the controversial anthology The New Poetry (1993) edited by Michael Hulse (1955-), David Kennedy (1959-) and David Morley (1964-). Controversial, perhaps, because of its diversity. The anthology has no central thrust other than its multiplicity.

The New Poetry does not, however, contain many examples of Britain’s performance poetry. During the past fifteen years verse has found an increasingly welcome home on the stage of clubs, pubs and bars. Poetry delivered as entertainment, loud, in your face and, like much of the rest of our media, instantly appreciable has turned verse from an arcane art into a truly popular one. Building on the strong lead given by the Liverpool poets and their followers in the seventies John Cooper Clarke (1950-), Attila the Stockbroker (1957-), John Hegley (1953-), and others have increased public consumption of poetry on a geometric scale. Their work is dynamic, politically apposite and often delivered with considerable humour. Rarely, however, does it also succeed on the page.

The post-colonial cultures of recently politically-devolved Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have seen poetry in those countries boom. In Scotland the influence of Hugh MacDiarmid, has been strong. Robert Garioch (1909-1980), George Mackay Brown (1921-1996), Norman MacCaig (1910-), Liz Lochhead (1947-) and others have seen their poetry find acceptance beyond their borders. The same has happened throughout the troubles in Northern Ireland with the work of Paul Muldoon (1951-), Derek Mahon (1941-), Michael Longley (1939-), Tom Paulin and others emerging brilliantly alongside the towering presence of Seamus Heaney. In Wales the dominant force, outside her borders, of R.S.Thomas has been followed by that of Gillian Clarke (1937-), Nigel Jenkins (1946-), Menna Elfyn (1951-), Gwyneth Lewis (1959-), Robert Minhinnick (1952-), Tony Curtis (1946-), and, more recently, Owen Sheers (1974-). Only in Scotland have their been significant formal innovators (Tom Leonard, W.N Herbert (1961-)). Wales and Northern Ireland (with the exception of Paul Muldoon) steer more traditional courses.

By the turn of the millennium poetry in Britain had reached a multi-faceted stand-off. Despite the work of editors like Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford (1959-) who have made brave attempts at uniting post-modern, post-Christian, post-war, post-Hiroshima, post-structuralist, post-devolution poetries under one pluralistic banner the many gleaming and disparate parts of British poetry do not like making a coherent whole. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the literatures no longer find themselves overshadowed by an English big brother. The sound coming in from the centre is increasingly ignored. The argument between form and content remains as strong as ever. It has been raging for a hundred years and there are no winners yet. The counter-culture may have changed name and altered its emphasis (from lifestyle to free-form experiment and back) but it remains as strong and has as many adherents as ever. They may say there is no British L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry but there are plenty of fellow travellers. The line which runs up from Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), through D.H.Lawrence (1885-1930), Philip Larkin, Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984), Douglas Dunn, Andrew Motion, and Simon Armitage continues, although is no longer quite as central as it once was. Minority writing (ethnic, genre, sexual orientation) has as many proponents and fans as pop writing did in the seventies. Twenty-first century British poetry is no longer precisely English. Like the world literature with which it is now firmly allied it has as many facets as the eye of a fly. Saying exactly what it is remains the problem of the moment.

Peter Finch


Abse, Dannie (editor), The Hutchinson Book of Post-War British Poets; 1989, Armitage, Simon and Crawford, Robert, The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland Since 1945 (2000); Cobbing, Bob and Mayer, Peter, Concerning Concrete Poetry; 1978, Hamilton, Ian (editor), The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry; (1994), Hulse, Michael, Kennedy, David and Morley, David (editors), The New Poetry, (1993); Lucie-Smith, Edward (editor), British Poetry Since 1945 (1970); Matthias, John (editor) 23 Modern British Poets (1971); O’Brien, Sean, The Deregulated Muse, 1998; Thwaite, Anthony, Poetry Today (1996).

This essay was originally commission by the American Continuum Encyclopaedia of British Literature which was published in 2003

Portrait of a Londoner by Virginia Woolf

Nobody can be said to know London who does not know one true cockney – who cannot turn down a side street, away from the shops and the theatres, and knock at a private door in a street of private houses. Private houses in London are apt to be much of a muchness. The door opens on a dark hall; from the dark hall rises a narrow staircase; off the landing opens a double drawing-room, and in this double drawing-room are two sofas on each side of a blazing fire, six armchairs, and three long windows giving upon the street. What happens in the back half of the drawing-room which looks upon the gardens of other houses is often a matter of considerable conjecture. But it is with the front drawing-room that we are here concerned; for Mrs Crowe always sat there in an armchair by the fire; it was there that she had her being; it was there that she poured out tea.

That she was born in the country seems, though strange, to be a fact: that she sometimes left London, in those summer weeks when London ceases to be London, is also true. But where she went or what she did when she was out of London, when her chair was empty, her fire unlit and her table unlaid, nobody knew or could imagine. To figure Mrs Crowe in her black dress and her veil and her cap, walking in a field among turnips or climbing a hill where cows were grazing, is beyond the scope of the wildest imagination.

There by the fire in winter, by the window in summer, she had sat for 60 years – but not alone. There was always someone in the armchair opposite, paying a call. And before the first caller had been seated 10 minutes, the door always opened and the maid Maria, she of the prominent eyes and prominent teeth, who had opened the door for 60 years, opened it once more and announced a second visitor; and then a third, and then a fourth.

A tete-a-tete with Mrs Crowe was unknown. She disliked tete-a-tetes. It was part of a peculiarity that she shared with many hostesses that she was never specially intimate with anyone. For example, there was always an elderly man in the corner by the cabinet – who seemed, indeed, as much a part of that admirable piece of 18th-century furniture as its own brass claws. But he was always addressed as Mr Graham – never John, never William: though sometimes she would call him «dear Mr Graham» as if to mark the fact that she had known him for 60 years.

The truth was she did not want intimacy; she wanted conversation. Intimacy has a way of breeding silence, and silence she abhorred. There must be talk, and it must be general, and it must be about everything. It must not go too deep, and it must not be too clever, for if it went too far in either of these directions somebody was sure to feel out of it, and to sit balancing his tea cup, saying nothing.

Thus Mrs Crowe’s drawing-room had little in common with the celebrated salons of the memoir writers. Clever people often came there – judges, doctors, members of parliament, writers, musicians, people who travelled, people who played polo, actors and complete nonentities, but if anyone said a brilliant thing it was felt to be rather a breach of etiquette – an accident that one ignored, like a fit of sneezing, or some catastrophe with a muffin. The talk that Mrs Crowe liked and inspired was a glorified version of village gossip. The village was London, and the gossip was about London life. But Mrs Crowe’s great gift consisted in making the vast metropolis seem as small as a village with one church, one manor house and 25 cottages. She had first-hand information about every play, every picture show, every trial, every divorce case. She knew who was marrying, who was dying, who was in town and who was out. She would mention the fact that she had just seen Lady Umphleby’s car go by, and hazard a guess that she was going to visit her daughter whose baby had been born last night, just as a village woman speaks of the squire’s lady driving to the station to meet Mr John, who is expected down from town.

And as she had made these observations for the past 50 years or so, she had acquired an amazing store of information about the lives of other people. When Mr Smedley, for instance, said that his daughter was engaged to Arthur Beecham, Mrs Crowe at once remarked that in that case she would be a cousin twice removed to Mrs Firebrace, and in a sense niece to Mrs Burns, by her first marriage with Mr Minchin of Blackwater Grange. But Mrs Crowe was not in the least a snob. She was merely a collector of relationships; and her amazing skill in this direction served to give a family and domestic character to her gatherings, for it is surprising how many people are 20th cousins, if they did but know it.

To be admitted to Mrs Crowe’s house was therefore to become the member of a club, and the subscription demanded was the payment of so many items of gossip every year. Many people’s first thought when the house caught fire or the pipes burst or the housemaid decamped with the butler, must have been, I will run round and tell that to Mrs Crowe. But here again, distinctions had to be observed. Certain people had the right to run round at lunchtime; others, and these were the most numerous, must go between the hours of five and seven. The class who had the privilege of dining with Mrs Crowe was a small one. Perhaps only Mr Graham and Mrs Burke actually dined with her, for she was not a rich woman. Her black dress was a trifle shabby; her diamond brooch was always the same diamond brooch. Her favourite meal was tea, because the tea table can be supplied economically, and there is an elasticity about tea which suited her gregarious temper. But whether it was lunch or tea, the meal had a distinct character, just as a dress and her jewellery suited her to perfection and had a fashion of their own. There would be a special cake, a special pudding – something peculiar to the house and as much part of the establishment as Maria the old servant, or Mr Graham the old friend, or the old chintz on the chair, or the old carpet on the floor.

That Mrs Crowe must sometimes have taken the air, that she did sometimes become a guest at other people’s luncheons and teas, is true. But in society she seemed furtive and fragmentary and incomplete, as if she had merely looked in at the wedding or the evening party or the funeral to pick up some scraps of news that she needed to complete her own hoard. Thus she was seldom induced to take a seat; she was always on the wing. She looked out of place among other people’s chairs and tables; she must have her own chintzes and her own cabinet and her own Mr Graham under it in order to be completely herself As years went on these little raids into the outer world practically ceased. She had made her nest so compact and so complete that the outer world had not a feather or a twig to add to it. Her own cronies were so faithful, moreover, that she could trust them to convey any little piece of news that she ought to add to her collection. It was unnecessary that she should leave her own chair by the fire in winter, by the window in summer. And with the passage of years her knowledge became, not more profound – profundity was not her line – but more rounded, and more complete. Thus if a new play were a great success, Mrs Crowe was able next day not merely to record the fact with a sprinkle of amusing gossip from behind the scenes, but she could cast back to other first nights, in the 80s, in the 90s, and describe what Ellen Terry had worn, what Duse had done, how dear Mr Henry James had said – nothing very remarkable perhaps; but as she spoke it seemed as if all the pages of London life for 50 years past were being lightly shuffled for one’s amusement. There were many; and the pictures on them were bright and brilliant and of famous people; but Mrs Crowe by no means dwelt on the past – she by no means exalted it above the present.

Indeed, it was always the last page, the present moment, that mattered most. The delightful thing about London was that it was always giving one something new to look at, something fresh to talk about. One only had to keep one’s eyes open; to sit down in one’s own chair from five to seven every day of the week. As she sat in her chair with her guests ranged round she would give from time to time a quick bird-like glance over her shoulder at the window, as if she had half an eye on the street, as if she had half an ear upon the cars and the omnibuses and the cries of the paper boys under the window. Why, something new might be happening this very moment. One could not spend too much time on the past: one must not give all one’s attention to the present.

Nothing was more characteristic and perhaps a little disconcerting than the eagerness with which she would look up and break her sentence in the middle when the door opened and Maria, grown very portly and a little deaf, announced someone new. Who was about to enter? What had he or she got to add to the talk? But her deftness in extracting whatever might be their gift, her skill in throwing it into the common pool, were such that no harm was done; and it was part of her peculiar triumph that the door never opened too often; the circle never grew beyond her sway.

Thus, to know London not merely as a gorgeous spectacle, a mart, a court, a hive of industry, but as a place where people meet and talk, laugh, marry, and die, paint, write and act, rule and legislate, it was essential to know Mrs Crowe. It was in her drawing-room that the innumerable fragments of the vast metropolis seemed to come together into one lively, comprehensible, amusing and agreeable whole. Travellers absent for years, battered and sun-dried men just landed from India or Africa, from remote travels and adventures among savages and tigers, would come straight to the little house in the quiet street to be taken back into the heart of civilisation at one stride. But even London itself could not keep Mrs Crowe alive for ever. It is a fact that one day Mrs Crowe was not sitting in the armchair by the fire as the clock struck five; Maria did not open the door; Mr Graham had detached himself from the cabinet. Mrs Crowe is dead, and London – no, though London still exists, London will never be the same city again.

Lewis Carroll: acceda a los manuscritos de Alice in Wonderland

This manuscript – one of the British Library’s best – loved treasures – is the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, the pen-name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician.

Dodgson was fond of children and became friends with Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of his college, Christ Church. One summer’s day in 1862 he entertained them on a boat trip with a story of Alice’s adventures in a magical world entered through a rabbit-hole. The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her. It took him some time to write out the tale – in a tiny, neat hand – and complete the 37 illustrations. Alice finally received the 90-page book, dedicated to ‘a dear child, in memory of a summer day’, in November 1864.

Urged by friends to publish the story, Dodgson re-wrote and enlarged it, removing some of the private family references and adding two new chapters. The published version was illustrated by the artist John Tenniel.

Many years later, Alice was forced to sell her precious manuscript at auction. It was bought by an American collector, but returned to England in 1948 when a group of American benefactors presented it to the British Library in appreciation of the British people’s role in the Second World War.

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All I Know About Gertrude Stein by Jeanette Winterson

In 1907 a woman from San Francisco named Alice B. Toklas arrived in Paris. She was going to meet a fellow American living there already. She was excited because she’d heard a lot about Gertrude Stein.

In 2011 a woman from London named Louise was travelling by Eurostar to Paris. Louise was troubled. Louise was travelling alone because she was trying to understand something about love.

Louise was in a relationship; it felt like a ship, though her vessel was a small boat rowed by herself with a cabin for her lover. Her lover’s ship was much bigger and carried crew and passengers. There was always a party going on. Her lover was at the centre of a busy world. Louise was her own world; self-contained, solitary, intense. She did not know how to reconcile these opposites – if opposites they were – and to make things more complicated, it was Louise who wanted the two of them to live together. Her lover said no – they were good as they were – and the solitary Louise and the sociable lover could not be in the same boat.

And so Louise was travelling alone to Paris.

I am Louise.

Itook the Metro to Cité. I walked past Notre-Dame and thought of the hunchback Quasimodo swinging his misshapen body across the bell-ropes of love for Esmeralda. Quasimodo was a deaf mute. Cupid is blind. Freud called love an ‘overestimation of the object’. But I would swing through the ringing world for you.

Alice Toklas had no previous experience of love.

Her mother died young – young for the mother and young for Alice – and Alice played the piano and kept house for her father and brothers. She ordered the meat, managed the budget, supervised the kitchen. And then she came to Paris and met Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein’s mother died young too – and you never fully recover from that – actually you never recover at all; you take it with you as an open wound – but with luck that is not the end of the story.

Gertrude had a modest but sufficient private income. She and her brother Leo had long since left the USA to set up house in Paris in the rue de Fleurus. Gertrude wrote. Leo painted. They bought modern art. They bought Matisse when no one did and they bought Picasso when no one did. Pablo and Gertrude became great friends.

But Gertrude was lonely. Gertrude was a writer. Gertrude was lonely.

Ifind myself returning again and again to the same familiar condition of solitariness. Is it sex that makes this happen? If it were not for sex, wouldn’t we each be content with our friends, their companionship and confidences? I love my friends. I am a good friend. But with my lover I begin to feel alone.

A friend of mine can be happy without a lover; she will have an affair if she wants one, but she doesn’t take the trouble to love.

I do very badly without a lover. I pine, I sigh, I sleep, I dream, I set the table for two and stare into the empty chair. I could invite a friend – sometimes I do – but that is not the point; the point is that I am always wondering where you are even when you don’t exist.

Sometimes I have affairs. But though I enjoy the bed, I feel angry at the fraud; the closeness without the cost.

I know what the cost is: the more I love you, the more I feel alone.

On 23 May 1907 Gertrude Stein met Alice B. Toklas.

Gertrude: Fat, sexy, genial, powerful.

Alice: A tiny unicorn, nervous, clever, watchful, determined.

When Gertrude opened the door to the atelier of 27 rue de Fleurus, Alice tried to sit down but couldn’t, because the chairs were Stein-size and Alice was Toklas-size and her feet did not reach the floor.

‘The world keeps turning round and round,’ said Gertrude, ‘but you have to sit somewhere.’

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En la corte del lobo – Hilary Mantel

Estamos en un país peligroso, la Inglaterra de los Tudor, en una época peligrosa, los años del siempre insatisfecho Enrique VIII, y el héroe de la historia es Thomas Cromwell, plebeyo peligroso entre nobles sanguinarios. El Cromwell de Hilary Mantel es, más que un héroe, un superhéroe capaz de imponer sin contemplaciones su voluntad, que coincide con la voluntad del rey. Quiere el rey que lo libren de la reina, Catalina de Aragón, y lo casen con Ana Bolena.

El héroe de En la corte del lobo (Wolf Hall, 2009; Wolf Hall es la casa familiar de Jane Seymour, la tercera mujer del rey) posee rasgos de personaje fabuloso: sus orígenes parecen enigmáticos y ni siquiera se conoce su fecha de nacimiento, que debió ser en torno a 1485, niño maltratado, fugitivo, perdido en su adolescencia después de una paliza brutal a manos de su padre, herrero y cervecero borracho. Cromwell pasó la juventud entre Francia, Italia y los Países Bajos, soldado, jugador, capaz de acariciar serpientes y sobrevivir a su picadura, comerciante, tratante de dinero. Las habladurías londinenses le dan profundidad a su figura, la amplían y magnifican, hombre de más de un nombre, Tommaso, Tomos o Thomas. En 1527 es el abogado del lord canciller de Inglaterra, el cardenal Wolsey, hijo de carnicero. Pero el príncipe de la Iglesia está a un paso de la ruina por su impotencia para descasar al rey con Catalina, hija de los Reyes Católicos y tía del emperador Carlos.

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En la corte del lobo. Barcelona: Destino, 2011.


El Departamento de Letras de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Buenos Aires organiza bienalmente el Congreso Internacional de Letras (CIL) «Transformaciones culturales. Debates de la teoría, la crítica y la lingüística». De una semana de duración, el congreso reúne investigadores, docentes y estudiantes de la Argentina y el exterior en un espacio de intercambio académico en todos los campos de las Letras. Se presentan conferencias y simposios con invitados especiales, paneles y mesas simultáneas con exposiciones individuales.

La quinta edición del congreso se realizará del 27 de noviembre al 1º de diciembre de 2012 en la Ciudad de Buenos Aires.
En las circulares correspondientes se comunicarán formularios, plazos y medios de inscripción, aranceles, formas de pago y protocolos de organización del evento.

Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece by James Wood

Henry James was foul about Far from the Madding Crowd when it appeared in 1874. He was a young writer, ambitious, seething, silkily aggressive. There was ground to be cleared, and residents had to be deported. Thomas Hardy, with his knobbly rusticities and merry peasants, would not do. In the Nation, James complained that the novel had a ‘fatal lack of magic’, and was written in a ‘verbose and redundant style … Everything human in the book strikes us as factious and insubstantial; the only things we believe in are the sheep and the dogs.’ James got almost everything wrong about the novel (how could he have missed, say, the ‘scarlet handful of fire’ in the grate of Gabriel Oak’s hut?) but one thing perhaps lingered. Far from the Madding Crowd tells the story of a beautiful woman, Bathsheba Everdene, who is pursued by three suitors: the dashing and unreliable Sergeant Troy; the solid yeoman, Gabriel Oak; and the relentless, even fanatical gentleman farmer, Mr Boldwood. Six years later, James would begin work onThe Portrait of a Lady. The repressed similarity of plot is immediately striking. A beautiful young woman, Isabel Archer, is pursued by three suitors: the dashing, reliable Lord Warburton; the dashing, demonic Gilbert Osmond; and a relentless, even fanatical American industrialist who is called not Boldwood, but Caspar Goodwood.

James accused Hardy of having ‘little sense of proportion and almost none of composition’, but it can be hard, at first, to divine much sense of form in The Portrait of a Lady. The novel opens with provoking languor, and an air of leisured surplus. It is an English summer afternoon (James once said that ‘summer afternoon’ were the two most beautiful words in the language). Three men are taking tea on the lawn at Gardencourt, a country house overlooking the Thames, about forty miles from London. Daniel Touchett, the old American banker who owns the house, is nearing the end of his life – ‘taking the rest that precedes the great rest’.

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Muy lejos de Kensington de Muriel Spark

CUÉNTAME TU VIDA por Laura Galarza

Muriel Spark fue sin dudas una de las más atractivas, irónicas y lúcidas escritoras inglesas. La profusión de títulos casi nobiliarios que le otorgó el Imperio Británico no deberían despistar al lector. Sufrió el hambre y las penurias de los comienzos de un verdadero artista. Su obra, rescatada en nuestro país por La Bestia Equilátera, siempre tiene un sesgo detectivesco y un dejo de reflexión filosófica. En Muy lejos de Kensington creó un personaje femenino que, como ella, estaba preparado para escuchar a los demás y, a continuación, ponerlo por escrito.

Redactó mensajes falsos en el Servicio de Inteligencia Británico para despistar a los alemanes durante la Segunda Guerra y por esa acción a Muriel Sarah Camberg la nombraron, en 1993, Dama al servicio del Imperio Británico. Ya en el orden literario escribió las biografías de Mary W. Shelley y Emily Brontë, además de poesía y relatos, hasta ganar en 1950, en el Observer, su primer premio. Desde entonces publicó más de veinte novelas, entre ellas The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, con la cual alcanzaría la fama en 1961. En nuestro país, La Bestia Equilátera se viene ocupando de hacer un justo rescate de su obra, traduciendo al español desde 2008 Los encubridores, Memento Mori, La intromisión y ahora, Muy lejos de Kensington, dejando claro que Muriel Spark es una autora que no se puede dejar de leer.

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El insólito peregrinaje de Harold Fry de Rachel Joyce

El césped ataja el asfalto de la carretera que los árboles recubren de bóvedas verdes en pleno Gloucestershire. En una granja de Brownshill, pequeño pueblo de esta área de la campiña inglesa, se refugia de la vida la escritora Rachel Joyce (Londres, 1962). Y por un escenario así pone a andar a Harold, el jubilado protagonista de su sorprendente y exitoso debut literario, El insólito peregrinaje de Harold Fry.

Todo parece simple en la vida y en la novela de Joyce, pero es como los ríos de la zona: asoman mansos pero la corriente del agua y de los sentimientos fluye tenaz y profunda. En la obra se traduce en un anodino recién jubilado que recibe la carta de una amiga a la que no ve desde hace 20 años y donde le comunica escuetamente que va a morir de cáncer. La respuesta aún es más breve, totalmente insatisfactoria y mientras va al buzón de la esquina a tirarla, Harold se lo repiensa y se da tiempo emplazándose a otro buzón más lejano y así hasta que decide que irá a pie desde Kingsbridge, tal como va (mocasines náuticos, sin móvil, sin ropa adecuada, sin avisar a su esposa), hasta donde la mujer que agoniza, en Berwick-upon-Tweed, casi la otra punta del país, un peregrinaje de 87 días y 1.009 kilómetros que acabará siendo una expiación de sus pasados pecados con la corresponsal y con su familia.

En el fondo, la novela, generosa en mensajes, trata de la batalla cotidiana por aguantar la fachada, por enmascarar lo que nos pasa por dentro, admite su autora: “Todos libramos cada día esa contienda, parecemos iguales y nos mostramos impertérritos por fuera y eso nos hace sentir aún más solos. Harold es la demostración: como está de paso, la gente se le abre y le cuenta cosas que a sus más allegados no relatan; sí, estamos solos y nuestra sociedad es individualista, pero necesitamos conectar con la gente”; el protagonista, piensa su creadora, “al caminar vuelve a conectar, con él mismo y con los demás; pero no todos saben explotar, tener ese momento irracional de contarlo todo o hacer lo que siempre soñaron y no se atrevieron y lo lamentan; vivimos demasiado aislados, expresándonos a través de e-mails y sms en vez de hablando. Y no es lo mismo”.

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Ciudadano Cine

Una opinión de cine

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