May 10 2020

Five Books With Old, Interesting Covers That I’ve Recently Read

porticos in Bologna, Italia
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Recently read (c. 1964)

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1. There was a passage in the appendix to this book that reminded me, that while Nietzsche wrote The Birth of Tragedy, he also wrote a book titled Daybreak:

At what time of day did the plays begin?

At dawn. The dramatic poet for the day furnished a tetralogy of three tragedies and a satyr play. Finally the day ended with the performance of a comedy by one of the competing comic poets.

(Paul Rouche, “Appendix,” Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, trans. Roche (New York: Mentor Classics, 1964) p. 114.)

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Recently read (c. 1955)

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2. One thing that stuck out from reading this book was Ian Watt (1917–1999) explaining how the Elizabethans read differently than we do:

This contrast brings us to our final general comparison between modern and Elizabethan ‘light reading[’]. Even the word ‘reading’ suggests similarities which are misleading.

‘Able to read’ or ‘literate’ meant knowledge of Latin to most people until the eighteenth century. And even if ‘English’ were specified, ‘reading’ would still have denoted to an Elizabethan a process different from that commonly practised today. Most Elizabethan literature then received and still requires reading aloud, or at the very least pronouncing the words internally or sub-vocally. Even their prose novels and their sensational journalism were meant to be ‘interpreted’ into sound; that was the meaning they gave to the word ‘interpretation’. To some extent, at least, all their literature of entertainment was designed to embody the shame rhetorical and stylistic, as well as moral, values which are found in their lyrical and dramatic poetry. The modern habit of fast silent reading, combined with the development of matter which can be easily and swiftly absorbed by the eye alone, is perhaps the greatest obstacle between us and an enjoyment of Elizabethan light reading. Certainly it requires, as much as Spenser or Shakespeare, an alert attention to pauses and stresses, and to the pattern of sound and meaning, an attention which the Elizabethan unconsciously accorded. Only with this break from our present reading habits can we today recapture some of the qualities which the ordinary sixteenth-century reader expected to find as part of his pleasure and entertainment.

(“Elizabethan Light Reading,” The Age of Shakespeare, ed. Boris Ford, (Aylesbury and Slough: Penguin, 1955, 1960) 120.)

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Recently read (c. 1934, 1953)

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3. This was my second time to read this book, and I will return to again, because it covers a lot of ideas and times frames that overlap with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (2007). One thing that stood out on this reading was Willey making a triumvirate of Milton, Newton, and Locke:

The supremacy which Milton held in heroic poetry, and Newton in physics, belonged in philosophy to Locke. Moreover, his authority was not confined to this one sphere; indeed, the prestige of his philosophical work was itself acribable to the wide acceptance of his views on political liberty and religious toleration.

(Basil Willey, The Seventeenth Century Background: the Thought of the Age in Relation to Religion and Poetry, New York: Columbia UP, 1935; Anchor Books Reprint, 1953) 264.)

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Recently read (c. 1964)

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4. While I’ve read various short stories by Chekov over the years, I’d never gotten around to reading his plays until now. And this moment from the first act of The Sea Gull (1896) was quite poignant on an initial reading:

ARKADINA: Now it appears he [Trigorin] has written a great work! Oh, really! Evidently he got up this performance and fumigated us with sulfur, not as a joke butt as a demonstration….  He wanted to teach us how one ought to write, and what one ought to act in. After all, this is getting tiresome! These continual sallies at my expense, these gibes, if you please, would try anyone’s patience! He’s a conceited, capricious boy!

SORIN: He meant to give you pleasure.

ARKADINA: Yes? Then why didn’t he choose the usual sort of play instead of forcing us to listen to these decadent ravings? I don’t mind listening even to raving if it’s a joke, but here we have pretensions to new forms, a new era in art. To my way of thinking this has nothing at all to do with new forms, it’s simply bad temper.

TRIGORIN: Everyone writes as he likes and as he can.

ARKADINA: Let him write as he likes and as he can, so long as he leaves me in peace.

(Anton Chekov, The Sea Gull in Chekhov: The Major Plays, trans. Ann Dunnigan (New York: Signet Classics, 1964) p. 117.)

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Recently read (c. 1954)

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5. Finally, I have yet to find much information about the author of The King’s Vixen (1954) Pamela Hill, though apparently she has written a few dozen novels. This one, her second, was pretty much a boring (but not bad) romance novel. There was, however, an amusing part about how speaking in allegory had become fashionable in early Tutor England:

“I came here to pay my respects to the farmer’s wife, and I find the goddess Aphrodite, risen from the waves and sojourning here, so that Phoebus shines the more brightly for her company,” [said Walter Kennedy]….

She [Jan] found his conversation amusing, being of a kind to which she had been hitherto unused. In France, and Italy where he had lately been, she understood that they talked thus in allegory, so that every woman was a nymph or a goddess and every action initiated by some virtue or vice.

(The King’s Vixen, (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1954) p. 39.)