Victorian Gothic

“The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”

On July 4th, 1885 Pall Mall Gazette editor W.T. Stead issued a “frank warning” to his readers. Due to public inattention, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill—an item of legislation drafted to suppress child prostitution and raise the age of consent in the United Kingdom from thirteen to sixteen—was once again languishing in the House of Commons. This could not be allowed to stand. The Gazette would be taking swift, decisive action to open the eyes of the public to the enormity of the crisis at hand, but it was not going to be pretty. ”We have no desire to inflict upon unwilling eyes the ghastly story of the criminal developments of modern vice,” he wrote, “Therefore we say quite frankly to-day that all those who are squeamish, and all those who are prudish, and all those who prefer to live in a fool’s paradise of imaginary innocence and purity, selfishly oblivious to the horrible realities which torment those whose lives are passed in the London Inferno, will do well not to read the Pall Mall Gazette of Monday and the three following days.”

What followed was the Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon; a shocking, four-part exposé of child sex trafficking that sent London spiraling into moral panic. In spite of boycotts, harassment and threats of prosecution for obscenity, the Northumberland Street offices of the Gazette were literally besieged by eager newsboys and hungry runners desperate to obtain valuable new copies of the controversial paper. Meanwhile, Stead openly dared the authorities to press charges against him, threatening to subpoena almost half the Legislature to prove his allegations if such a case were brought to trial. The fiery reformer would not be silenced.

The report of a “secret commission,” the Maiden Tribute derived its title from the tribute that conquered Athens is said to have paid to King Minos: seven maidens and seven youths who were made to wander the Labyrinth of Daedalus, where they would inevitably encounter the deadly Minotaur. Truly, it was a terrible price to pay, and yet modern London was willingly offering up multitudes of its own maidens to meet their doom in the maze of brotheldom. ”The maw of the London Minotaur is insatiable,” Stead wrote, “and none that go into the secret recesses of his lair return again.

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Short Cuts

by Christopher Tayler

When Ford Madox Ford published No More Parades, the second of the four novels that make up Parade’s End, in 1925, he was likened to Proust and Joyce. Three years later the final instalment, Last Post, was the biggest commercial success of his career. (In 1915 The Good Soldier had brought in £67.) Ford being the man he was, though, his triumph was confused. Was Last Post part of his master plan or was it a slightly botched afterthought? Ford sometimes took the second view, which prompted Graham Greene to exclude the novel from his edition of the sequence in 1963. Then there was the question of where Parade’s End should be shelved: along with Ulysses and Mrs Dalloway? With Goodbye to All That and All Quiet on the Western Front? Or in the nook reserved for cultish para-Jamesiana like Howard Sturgis’s Belchamber? Buoyed up by these undecidables it’s stayed more or less afloat, not as visible as The Good Soldier but not as neglected as Ford’s partisans sometimes like to make out. Copies used to be quite difficult to find and Carcanet’s critical edition costs £75.80, but thanks to the five-part BBC/HBO adaptation that came to an end last month, blurry paperbacks can now be had for less than a fiver.

Ford maintained that prose ‘should give the effect of a long monologue spoken by a lover at a little distance from his mistress’s ear’. Such lines weren’t the only part of his output to be coloured by his famously well-populated love life, and Parade’s Enddraws heavily on his overlapping entanglements – principally those with Elsie Martindale, Violet Hunt and Stella Bowen. Ian Hamilton thought Ford’s novels ‘were too often damaged by having to serve as silvery-tongued back-ups to whatever life-muddle he happened to be engaged with’. Yet Ford’s self-exculpatory fantasies animate the sequence in a wonderfully mad way. ‘I stand for monogamy and chastity,’ Christopher Tietjens says, setting himself against the times as well as his devil-wife, Sylvia. The books are suffused with a seriously meant – if somewhat vague – neo-feudalism, partly in tribute to Ford’s friend Arthur Marwood, from whom he took Tietjens’s grand Yorkshire background, mathematical skills and habit of ‘tabulating from memory the errors in the Encyclopaedia Britannica’. He seamlessly added his own experiences in the trenches, but in giving Tietjens other Fordian attributes – bouncing cheques, rumours of scandalous polygamous attachments and the like – he combined his immensely subtle ‘treatment’ with a farce-like pattern in which Tietjens is repeatedly worked over, or mistaken for a blackguard, on account of his mulish rectitude.

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The Endgame of Taste: Keats, Sartre, Beckett

article by Denise Gigante (Stanford University)


[. . .] life is a thing of beauty, Gaber, and a joy for ever. He brought his face nearer mine. A joy for ever, he said, a thing of beauty, Moran, and a joy for ever.

Beckett, Molloy

Monsieur, at one time I ventured to think that the beautiful was only a question of taste. Are there not different rules for each epoch?

Sartre, Nausea


In the context of deciding what kind of weather was better fitted to his taste, Beckett’s absurdist quest-hero Molloy decides that he has no taste, that he had lost it long ago.[1] To be sure, modernism never wholly let go of the aesthetic legacy of taste, but by 1947 when Beckett was working on the first in his series of three novels, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, it had already experienced this legacy in the form of an existentialist nausea. For Molloy, as well as for Sartre’s existential man in Nausea (1938), there could be no escape from the imperative to exercise taste, although there could be no actually doing so either. Both were born on the wrong side of Romanticism as to taste, for that is where taste as a means of aesthetic self-making begins to fail. Perhaps nowhere do we see this more clearly than in Keats’s late fragmentary epic,Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion, where the metaphor of taste gives way to into an all-pervasive sickness seated in the stomach. While the starving speaker of The Fall of Hyperion fails to relish the stale banquet he is offered at the outset of the poem, the defeated gods of Hyperion suffer an existential queasiness that plays itself out in bodies that are “crampt and screw’d” (II.25). Even the eponymous hero Hyperion experiences a “nauseous feel” from the repulsive smells he is forced to consume. Critics since Walter Jackson Bate have noticed the proleptically existential tone of the Hyperion poems, the fact that they “anticipate much that we associate with existentialism (no other major nineteenth-century poem does this to the same extent)” (591). Here, I would like to pursue the possibility, evinced by Keats, that existentialism itself—and its dominant paradigms of nausea and disgust—constitute the philosophical aftermath of aesthetic taste.(para seguir leyendo este artículo, haga click aquí)

Writer’s Writer and Writer’s Writer’s Writer by Julian Barnes

If you go to the website of the restaurant L’Huîtrière (3, rue des Chats Bossus, Lille) and click on ‘translate’, the zealous automaton you have stirred up will instantly render everything into English, including the address. And it comes out as ‘3 street cats humped’. Translation is clearly too important a task to be left to machines. But what sort of human should it be given to?

Imagine that you are about to read a great French novel for the first time, and can only do so in your native English. The book itself is more than 150 years old. What would/ should/do you want? The impossible, of course. But what sort of impossible? For a start, you would probably want it not to read like ‘a translation’. You want it to read as if it had originally been written in English – even if, necessarily, by an author deeply knowledgable about France. You would want it not to clank and whirr as it dutifully renders every single nuance, turning the text into the exposition of a novel rather than a novel itself. You would want it to provoke in you most of the same reactions as it would provoke in a French reader (though you would also want some sense of distance, and the pleasure of exploring a different world). But what sort of French reader? One from the late 1850s, or the early 2010s? Would you want the novel to have its original effect, or an effect coloured by the later history of French fiction, including the consequences of this very novel’s existence? Ideally, you would want to understand every period reference – for instance, to Trafalgar pudding, Ignorantine friars or Mathieu Laensberg – without needing to flick downwards or onwards to footnotes. Finally, if you want the book in ‘English’, what sort of English do you choose? Put simply, on the novel’s first page, do you want the schoolboy Charles Bovary’s trousers to be held up by braces, or do you want his pants to be held up by suspenders? The decisions, and the colouration, are irrevocable.

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En 2003, Terry Eagleton escribía sobre Eric Hobsbawm:

The Life of the Party

August 28, 2003

Interesting Times is a curiously feeble title for an autobiography, rather as if Noam Chomsky were to write an article called “Could America Do Better?” It carries, of course, the sting of an ominous Chinese saying in its tail; ironic English understatement. “I have lived,” Eric Hobsbawm remarks, “through almost all of the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history”; but he has lived through it as one of that century’s most eminent Marxist historians, and the dispassionate gaze of the historian is reflected in his title. Gleaning one’s history from a man who can remember celebrating the centenary of Beethoven’s death at school is rather like being instructed in one’s religious duties by the Pope. Hobsbawm has also clapped eyes on Stalin, though the dictator was admittedly a corpse at the time of their encounter.

Like most autobiographies, this one will do well in Eric Hobsbawm’s England–not because the English love a Marxist but because they love a character. From Dr. Johnson to Winston Churchill, it is the idiosyncratic individual who stirs their imagination, not some unpalatably abstract truth. This is why they love a lord as well as a character, and Oscar Wilde did his best to be both. They love a lord not only because they are cravenly deferential but because they are also anarchic and bloody-minded, and aristocrats are those who are most cavalier about convention.

In this sense, the autobiography is a covertly anti-intellectual genre, designed for those who are more interested in what Tolstoy had for breakfast than what he thought about Plato. It is also a self-contradictory one. Autobiographies set out to capture the uniqueness of the individual life, but find themselves telling the same old story. Everyone has to be born, have parents, get educated, discover sexuality, launch a career and the like. It is biology that lies at the root of biography. And biology is no respecter of individuals. It is also no friend of humility. However modest the autobiographer–and this one is attractively so–it is hard to escape the implication that things are important simply because they happened to you.

The life story, then, is not the most promising of forms for an intellectual–not only because it is allergic to ideas but because intellectuals are not renowned for their enthralling lives. We would not find as dull a life as Darwin’s in the least fascinating were it not for what he wrote. For an English intellectual like Hobsbawm, the problem is compounded by the fact that the English are as averse to confessionalism as they are to ideas. Shy, reticent souls that they are, they are not given to producing what Hobsbawm calls “biographies that lift bedclothes,” and this one hardly tweaks a sheet. Hobsbawm is properly reserved about his private life, and would be a disastrous flop on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He lets slip the fact that he was briefly and unhappily married to a woman who qualified as a kosher Cockney, being born not only within the sound of Bow bells but actually in the Tower of London; but this, one feels, is motivated more by cultural curiosity than by emotional exhibitionism. He tells us that both of his parents died when he was very young, and that he was raised by an aunt and uncle; yet though this must surely have had a deep emotional impact on his later life, we learn nothing of it. Instead, he breaks the golden rule of the genre and sets his personal life in the context of historical events and ideas, not in the context of his taste in brandy or blondes.

As far as ideas go, twentieth-century Britain imported them largely from Central European Jewish émigrés like Hobsbawm himself. Wittgenstein, Namier, Eysenck, Popper, Melanie Klein, Isaac Deutscher, Isaiah Berlin: One can imagine the Neanderthal condition of modern English culture without these brilliant blow-ins and carpetbaggers. Much the same happened in the literary arena, as the heights of “English” literature were effortlessly monopolized by a Pole (Joseph Conrad), three Americans (Henry James, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound) and five Irishmen (Shaw, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett). The Irish were expected to write most of England’s literature for it, such being the burdens of empire, as well as supplying them over the years with rents, cattle and cannon-fodder.

The position of these European exiles was ambiguous, as Perry Anderson has argued. Shuffling among three or four different cultures, they had a cosmopolitan flair and range that put the parochialism of the British to shame. Because they were mostly refugees from political tyranny and turmoil at the heart of Europe, their work was infused with a passion and urgency that the natives found hard to match. Yet refugees do not commonly rock the life-raft they are clambering aboard. If they view the sedateness of the native culture with a skeptical eye, they can also be grateful for it.

Recomendamos leer también las siguientes notas:

– Remembering Eric Hobsbawm, Historian for Social Justice 

haciendo click aquí

– Reseña de Eagleton al libro  How to Change the World de Hobsbawn

recomendado por Martín González, haciendo click aquí

– último artículo escrito por Hobsbawn

recomendado por Martín González, haciendo click aquí

Lawrence Durrell: el gran olvidado de la literatura inglesa

Fue el autor de un experimento extraordinario como el “Cuarteto de Alejandría”, además de un escritor cosmopolita y desopilante. En el año de su centenario, un homenaje.


Los centenarios son excusas para recordar algo que decidimos digno de ser recordado. En el caso de los centenarios de artistas, se trata de una buena excusa para que diversas instituciones les rindan homenajes dedicándoles una exposición, una serie de conciertos, un ciclo de conferencias, o todo eso junto. También para que editoriales y discográficas recurran a sus catálogos largamente amortizados y aprovechen la atención que, al menos por unos meses, se les presta a esos artistas, para reponer en el mercado obras que sin la eventualidad del centenario suelen faltar y así incrementar las ganancias. Pero, como en todo, hay centenarios de primera, de segunda y de tercera.
¿En cuál de estas categorías entra el centenario de Lawrence Durrell (Jalandhar, India, 1912- Sommières, Francia, 1990), escritor británico que a principios de la década de 1960, con la publicación Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958) y Clea (1960), las cuatro novelas que componen su extraordinario “Cuarteto de Alejandría”, logró una repercusión mundial a la que pocos acceden? Su celebridad, en un momento en que la novela europea como género entraba en un cono de sombra, se debió fundamentalmente a un sencillo experimento al que antes nadie había recurrido. Durrell escribió una novela con un narrador en primera persona, cuyo relato es criticado en la segunda novela por un personaje de la primera, quien agrega una perspectiva del todo diferente a los hechos mencionados. Luego, en la tercera novela, volvió a contar la historia, pero esta vez desde la perspectiva de un personaje secundario, sólo mencionado en los dos primeros libros, a quien le presta voz un narrador omnisciente, que corrige la supuesta trama de los dos primeros libros. Todo ese relativismo se resuelve en la cuarta novela, en que se retoma el narrador de la primera, quien completa la historia. Pero no se trataba solamente de un alarde de técnica. Gran estilista –a quien sus traductores Aurora Bernárdez, Santiago Ferrari y Matilde Horne le prestaron sus voces con maestría–, era capaz de párrafos como éste: “Cinco razas, cinco lenguas, una docena de religiones; el reflejo de cinco flotas en el agua grasienta, más allá de la escollera. Pero hay más de cinco sexos y sólo el griego del pueblo parece capaz de distinguirlos. La mercadería sexual al alcance de la mano es desconcertante por su variedad y profusión. Es imposible confundir a Alejandría con un lugar placentero. Los amantes simbólicos del mundo helénico son sustituidos por algo distinto, algo sutilmente andrógino, vuelto sobre sí mismo. Oriente no puede disfrutar de la dulce anarquía del cuerpo, porque ha oído más allá del cuerpo”. O si no: “ ‘Con una mujer sólo se pueden hacer tres cosas’, dijo Clea en una ocasión: ‘Quererla, sufrir o hacer literatura’.”

La vida de un cosmopolita

Y no es que Durrell haya escrito solamente eso, ya que fue un escritor prolífico. Como novelista, entre 1935 y 1957, publicó cinco novelas, a las que se suman las que integran el “Cuarteto de Alejandría”, las dos que forman parte de “La revuelta de Afrodita” y las cinco que constituyen el “Quinteto de Aviñón”; como poeta, desde 1931 hasta 1972 publicó ocho colecciones de poemas, que se resumen en sus Collected Poems: 1931-1974, editados por James A. Brigham; como dramaturgo, entre 1933 y 1964, escribió cuatro piezas, y como humorista, tiene cuatro colecciones de historias, muchas de las cuales son realmente desopilantes.

Pero hay más, porque fue un inveterado cosmopolita, tal como lo testimonian los siete volúmenes que documentan su paso por Grecia, Chipre, Italia, Serbia, etc. Su infancia transcurrió en la India, donde su padre se desempeñaba como empleado colonial. Luego de estudiar en Inglaterra y de fracasar en la universidad, se casó y huyó “del clima y de la idiotizante vida cultural inglesa; o sea, de la muerte británica” y se fue con su familia a Corfú, Grecia, donde se dedicó a escribir. Una muy divertida perspectiva de esos años la ofrece Mi familia y otros animales, la hilarante crónica de Gerald Durrell, hermano menor y, en el futuro, célebre zoólogo. Por ese entonces, Durrell conoce a Henry Miller y ambos escritores establecen una amistad que durará hasta el final de la vida de ambos.

Comenzada la Segunda Guerra, tanto la madre como los hermanos de Durrell vuelven a Gran Bretaña. El permanece con su esposa en Corfú hasta la caída de Grecia. Huyen a Creta y luego a Egipto. En este último país, Durrell se conchaba como agregado de prensa en la embajada británica en El Cairo y, más tarde, en Alejandría, lo que le permitirá, terminada la guerra, dirigir las filiales del British Council de Kalamata. Por extraño que hoy parezca, Durrell también vivió en nuestro país entre febrero de 1947 y diciembre de 1948. Acá llegó para hacerse cargo de las oficinas de la ciudad de Córdoba y para dictar conferencias sobre poesía contemporánea. Durante su breve y atormentada estadía le comunicó sus impresiones a su amigo Henry Miller, quien por entonces vivía en su casa de Big Sur, California. Como lo demuestran los dos fragmentos de cartas que se reproducen, tres meses de peronismo le resultaron suficientes: “Querido Henry: Sólo para decirte que hemos llegado y que la dirección es correcta. Este es un país perfectamente fantástico, pero lo mismo ocurre con todo el continente. Lo interesante es la curiosa liviandad de la atmósfera espiritual: uno se siente animado, irresponsable, como un balón de hidrógeno. Y además se percata de que el tipo personal de hombre europeo está aquí fuera de lugar: aquí uno no puede sufrir de angst, apenas de cafard. […] [Noviembre-diciembre de 1947]. Y ya en marzo de 1948: “Henry: [Buenos Aires es] climáticamente un infierno y moralmente el último círculo del infierno. Todo el que tiene alguna sensibilidad está tratando de salir de aquí, incluso yo. Creo que preferiría arriesgarme a la bomba atómica antes que permanecer aquí. Es tan muerto…”. A la Argentina la siguió Chipre y a ésta, el sur de Francia, donde terminó sus días.

In memoriam

Profusamente traducido en su tiempo –en la Argentina, fundamentalmente por los nombrados y por Leal Rey y Floreal Mazía, una década antes que en España–, hoy, como muchos de los que lo precedieron y no pocos de entre sus contemporáneos, parece relegado por los autores que el presente puso de moda –Martin Amis, Ian McEwan y Julian Barnes, por ejemplo– o por esos nuevos británicos venidos de las provincias del antiguo imperio, como Salman Rudshie, Hanif Kureishi o Kazuo Ishiguro, a quienes este inglés que detestaba profundamente a Inglaterra seguramente habría podido decirles algo. Quizás por eso, además de la reedición de algunos de sus libros, de una gran exposición comenzada en el mes de junio en la librería Foley’s, de Londres, y por nuevos archivos sonoros preparados por la National Library de Gran Bretaña, se anuncia la première internacional en en Lisboa de Sappho, la ópera en tres actos que escribió en 1963 la compositora australiana Peggy Glanville-Hicks sobre libreto de Durrell, para la San Francisco Opera, nunca estrenada en vida de sus autores.