We watched Stephen Frears’ 2016 Florence Foster Jenkins the other night. It’s an enjoyable movie, sometimes funny, always charming, with a splendid main performance by Meryl Streep that expertly balances real pathos with actual ridiculousness, and sterling support from Hugh Grant doing his Hugh Grant act (the film includes yet another splendid scene of Hugh Grant Dancing Badly, which has clearly become a thing). Simon Helberg, also up there on the poster, does less well, I’d say: over-playing his character: mugging and exaggerating his role. Less is more for this kind of comedy I think. But the movie has some…

Þat Sir-Gawan, þat Sir-Gawan;
I do not lyk þat Sir-Gawan
“And dost thou lyk grene eygges ond ham?”
I do not lyk þem Sir-Gawan!
“Wold ye lyk þem at Camylot?”
Wold I lyk þem? I wold not!
Not in þe chapel, not with a ryng
Not wiþ a girdle nor onyþing
Not shold ye cleave my hede fra nek:
I do not lyk þem, no, by hek!
“But would ye try them once, for me?”
Ond if I do, youle lett me bee?
Then I woll try þem Sir-Gawan.
I do lyk þem all-after!
Gladlie þem embracing:
Wait til I tell Arthor —
For þey are ham-azing.

In April the cruel shoots are scanty
A chess game: he would but she can’t. The
Pearls once were eyes
A reddened land dries
Then it’s done, with a triple-ply “Shanti”.

That I had never before read Goethe’s celebrated and influential novel was a source of some shame to me (I am a specialist in Romantic and Victorian literature, after all). I had tried to read it a couple of times in the past, struggled through the opening chapters and drifted away from the book. But now I can lay that shame: I have read Elective Affinities.

It’s a stiff, intermittently interesting, I-can-see-why-it-was-important-in-the-19thC-tradition, nonetheless really odd novel, I think. If we take it as an étude in human love and sexual desire then — well, it at no point connects or…

Read it yourself, if you like

[Continuing my read-through of the Waverley novels: previously on this blog, Kenilworth (1821), The Pirate (1821/22) and The Fortunes of Nigel (1822). There are other posts on other Scotts on other blogs. These posts are lengthy and full of spoilers, so, you know: have a care.]

The early 1820s saw Scott working an extraordinarily punishing schedule, writing-wise. It amounted to, basically, two long novels every year, along with many other writerly bits and pieces — The Monastery and The Abbot both appeared in 1820; Kenilworth and The Pirate in 1821 — though The Pirate had 1822 on the title page…

Read for yourself

It is the year 2000. ‘Let’s all meet up,’ says Colonel Bearwarden to a select group of scientist friends. ‘Won’t it be strange when we’re all fully gro-own?’

No, he doesn’t say that, obviously.

Adam Charleson, The Triumph of Death (Ancaster Books 2021); pp190, £9.99

In a preface Charleson reports that he wrote the first draft of The Triumph of Death in the late 90s, but that ‘the publication of Crace’s Being Dead left me with the sense that my project was a busted flush.’ Enough time has passed, it seems, for him to reappraise and to issue the novel, and for that we must be grateful. There is a superficial similarity between Charleson’s book and Crace’s novel — Being Dead, as I’m sure you remember, concerns the corpses of a middle-aged couple, both…

Elias Lönnrot, there, looking like he’s about to deliver the punchline in some BBC comedy sketch-show from the 90s (that beard? seriously?), less a national hero than Matthew Baynton in costume. Or, as my friend Adrian Tchaikovsky suggests: Mark Heap.

But alright: Lönnrot ‘assembled’ the Kalevala, the great ancestral Finnish national epic (as Homer is the great ancestral Greek national epic, or the Mahabharata-Ramayana the great ancestral Indian national epic) in the 19th-century. It’s a fine piece of work, the Kalevala, and is still very much current in and important to today’s Finland, as well as being a text that…

[Continuing my read-through of the Waverley novels: previously on this blog, Kenilworth (1821) and The Pirate (1821/22). There are other posts on other Scotts on other blogs. These posts are lengthy and full of spoilers, so, you know: have a care.]

If The Fortunes of Nigel (1822) is a much better novel than The Pirate (1821) that’s not because of its plot. The plot here is really just the tracing of the ups and downs (and final ups) of the title character’s fortunes. Not that it’s badly plotted, exactly: the looser scaffold allows for a series of excellent set-pieces and…

Pound’s mug-shot, there, after he had been captured by the US Army. He was arrested for aiding and abetting the Italian fascist regime against the Allies — for treason, that is. They put him in a cage. He was, I suppose we can say, ‘lucky’. Others were executed on just such charges. Pound was declared insane and transferred to St. Elizabeths, a high-security hospital in Washington D.C. (One detail that has stuck with me about this period of his life: Pound was only prepared to talk to Gentile psychiatrists. Any psychiatrist with a Jewish name who attempted to help him…

Adam Roberts

Writer and academic. London-adjacent.

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