Friday, 17 April 2015

The Reasons Why Pastorals Delight by Samuel Johnson.

The Rambler.
There are two essays on pastoral poetry in Samuel Johnson's The Rambler: 'The reasons why pastorals delight' (Saturday 21st July 1750) and 'The true principles of pastoral poetry' (Tuesday 24th July 1750). I would have liked to have written about both essays today, but unfortunately whilst I was in the middle of writing something cropped up and I'm going to have to curtail and focus only on the first. 

Johnson begins in this very short essay by observing,
There is scarcely any species of poetry that has allured more readers or excited more writers than that of the pastoral. It is generally pleasing because it entertains the mind with representations of scenes familiar to almost every imagination, and of which all can equally judge whether they are well described.
He goes on to write about the ages of man, and if that which is depicted in pastoral poetry represents the early ages, then it may follow that pastoral poetry itself is an ancient literature. Thus,
... for the same reason that pastoral poetry was the first enjoyment of the human imagination, it is generally the first literary amusement of our minds. We have seen fields and meadows and groves from the time that our eyes opened upon life; and are pleased with birds and brooks and breezes much earlier than we engage among the actions and passions of mankind. We are therefore delighted with rural pictures, because we know the original at an age when our curiosity can be very little awakened by descriptions of courts which we never beheld, or representations of passion which we never felt.
Because of this Johnson argues that the reading of pastoral poetry is a relaxing and pleasurable pastime that we hold on to in adulthood: "we do not, as we advance into the intellectual world, throw it away among the other childish amusements and pastimes, but willingly return to it in any hour of indolence and relaxation".

Johnson then moves on to the range and scope and potential of pastoral imagery, arguing that though it is essentially limited one may see the scientific, or rather the botanical advancements of a society within its pastoral literature:
... as each age makes some discoveries, and those discoveries are by degrees generally known, as new plants or modes of culture are introduced, and by little and little become common, pastoral might receive, from time to time, small augmentations, and exhibit once in a century a scene somewhat varied.
He then goes on to criticise pastoral poets who, he would argue, have no right to write what they do:
... men to whom the face of nature was so little known that they have drawn it only after their own imagination, and changed or distorted her features, that their portraits might appear something more than servile copies from their predecessors.
It is, as he has suggested, difficult to produce new and original pastoral scenes because of the aforementioned limitation in scope. At this point he refers to Sannazarius, and I believe this must be Jacopo Sannazaro, the 15th-16th Century Italian writer (author of, for example, Arcadia, 1504). Johnson writes,
The conviction of the necessity of some new source of pleasure induced Sannazarius to remove the scene from the fields to the sea, to substitute fishermen for shepherds, and derive his sentiments from the piscatory life; for which he has been censured by succeeding critics, because the sea is an object of terror, and by no means proper to amuse the mind and lay the passions asleep. Against this objection he might be defended by the established maxim that the poet has a right to select his images, and is no more obliged to show the sea in a storm than the land under an inundation; but may display all the pleasures, and conceal the dangers of the water, as he may lay his shepherd under a shady beech without giving him an ague, or letting a wild beast loose on him.
Yet Johnson does criticise Sannazarius on the grounds that describing the sea is a great deal more limited than describing the land, and the lack of experience the reader may have with "maritime pleasures" that will naturally curtail the reader's full potential of enjoyment. Identifying with action, for Johnson, is an important part of reading, which he argued in The New Realistic Novel (31st March 1750, also found in The Rambler). Johnson then concludes that it is a near impossible task to improve upon ancient writers:
Our descriptions may indeed differ from those of Virgil, as an English from an Italian summer, and, in some respects, as modern from ancient life; but as nature is in both countries nearly the same, and as poetry has to do rather with the passions of men, which are uniform, than their customs, which are changeable, the varieties which time or place can furnish will be inconsiderable: and I shall endeavour to show, in the next paper, how little the latter ages have contributed to the improvement of the rustic muse.
In the second essay he writes of Virgil, referring (presumably) to Virgil's pastoral poems - the Eclogues (42 - 39 B.C.). I remember reading these a while ago and enjoying them, but I would like to revisit them. Hopefully over the weekend I'll be able to re-read them, then next week I'll write something and refer to Johnson's second essay.

Pastoral Scene, Early Summer by Frederick William Hulme (1877).
'Pastoral Poems' was my 16th work for the Deal Me In Challenge (the second essay was really just a bonus!), and it was the final essay from Johnson's The Rambler. Over the coming month I hope to read the rest of the essays, and I do intend next week to write about Virgil's Eclogues with reference to Johnson's second essay. Next week however for the challenge is a return to Virginia Woolf's The Common Reader: 'How Should One Read a Book?'

Thursday, 16 April 2015

New Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen.

New Fairy Tales (Nye Eventyr) by Hans Christian Andersen was published on the 10th November 1843, containing The Angel, The Nightingale, The Sweethearts, and The Ugly Duckling. The Nightingale and The Ugly Duckling are two of my favourite Andersen tales (along with The Little Mermaid, 1837, and The Snow Queen, 1844) so I thought I would write a post and find some illustrations. 

Illustrated by Maxwell Armfield, from Faery Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, published by J. M. Dent & co in 1910.
The Nightingale and Other Stories illustrated
by Edmund Dulac and published by Hodder
in 1914
.
The Nightingale (Nattergalen) is about the emperor of China who believes his mechanical nightingale sounds better than the real nightingale that lives in his kingdom. Andersen describes the palace as
... made entirely of fine porcelain, so costly but so fragile, so delicate to the touch that you had to be extremely careful. In the garden you could see the most wondrous flowers. Tied to the most splendid of them were silver bells that jingled, and you couldn't walk past without noticing the flowers. Yes, everything was quite artful in the Emperor's garden, which stretched so far that even the gardener didn't know where it ended. If you kept walking you would come to the loveliest forest with tall trees and deep lakes. The forest went right down to the sea, which was deep and blue. Great ships could sail right under the branches. And among the branches lived a nightingale who sang so blissfully that even the poor fisherman, who had many other things to tend to, would lie still and listen whenever he heard the nightingale as he pulled his fishing nets at night. "Dear Lord, how beautiful she sounds!" he said. 
(You can hear the song of a nightingale here on the RSPB website).

I love that last detail of the fisherman - the nightingale is for everyone, not simply the rich emperor.

Andersen goes on to write about how the emperor reads about the nightingale in a book sent to him by the Emperor of Japan. He decides he must hear it and so the kitchen maid, the only one who knows the nightingale's whereabouts, is sent to find her. At first, they are struck by her appearance:
"Is it possible?" said the Lord Chamberlain. "That's not at all how I imagined her. How plain she looks! She must have lost her colour from seeing so many refined people all around."
The nightingale sings (Andersen notes that she sounds "just like glass bells"), and then she agrees to go to the palace to sing for the Emperor. Naturally he is impressed,
... the nightingale sang so wondrously that tears filled the Emperor's eyes. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and then the nightingale sang even more beautifully; the song went straight to the heart. The Emperor was so happy that he said the nightingale must wear his gold slipper around her neck. But the nightingale thanked him and said she had already received reward enough. 
And so the Emperor decides to keep her, however one day he receives a package containing a mechanical nightingale along with the message "The Emperor of Japan's nightingale is paltry compared to the Emperor of China's". It sings as well as the real nightingale, however the court find its appearance, which "glittered like bracelets and brooches", more pleasing. The real nightingale takes this opportunity to fly off, and, preferring the mechanical nightingale anyway, the Emperor banishes her from the kingdom.

But the mechanical nightingale can only sing for so long before its mechanics fail. They dare not wind it up to play more than once a year, and even that is too often. Then the Emperor falls ill and is expected to die, however the real nightingale returns and sings to him and he is saved.

It is a beautiful tale about the power and beauty of nature of the artificial and the mechanical. It was perhaps inspired by John Keats' Ode to a Nightingale (which I refer to in this post), and also by an opera singer of the time Jenny Lind. Whatever inspired it, The Nightingale is a perfect tale.

Here are some illustrations by Edmund Dulac:


*************

Illustrated by Maxwell Armfield, from Faery Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, published by J. M. Dent & co in 1910.


By Maxwell Armfield.
The Ugly Duckling (Den grimme ælling) is a heartbreakingly good tale and we all know the story. It is about a little duckling whose egg gets mixed up with some ducks. The moment he hatches he is deemed ugly:
Finally the big egg cracked open. "Peep! Peep!" said the youngster and tumbled out. He was so big and hideous. The duck looked at him. "That's certainly an awfully big duckling," she said. "None of the others look like that. He couldn't be a turkey chick, could he? Well, we shall soon see! Into the water he goes, even if I have to kick him in myself."
Fortunately the little one can swim, and very well too, however he is picked on and insulted - "too big and too odd looking .... so he's going to be pushed around." He is compared to his pretty brothers and sisters, and tormented and frightened:
The poor duckling had no idea which way to turn. He was very sad because he looked so hideous and was ridiculed by the whole duck yard.
His problems worsen and after a vicious attack he runs away, where, in the wild, he is attacked further. He suffers some truly harrowing events, nearly getting shot and seeing others shot, being attacked with a pan, and then one bitterly cold winter when he almost freezes to the water. It is at the very beginning of the winter where he first sees some swans:
Oh, he couldn't forget those lovely birds, those happy birds. As soon as he lost sight of them, he dove straight down to the bottom, and when he came back up, he was practically beside himself. He didn't know what those birds were called or where they were flying, but he loved them as he had never loved anyone else. He didn't envy them in the least; how could he even think of wishing for such loveliness? He would have been happy if the ducks had merely allowed him to stay among them. The poor ugly creature! 
By Milo Winter from Hans Andersen's
Fairy Tales
(1916)
.
And so he suffers the winter and makes it to spring when, at last, he sees the lovely swans again. Desperate to be close to them he musters up his courage and approaches, preparing to be pecked to death.
"Go ahead and kill me!" said the poor bird, and he bent his head down to the surface of the water and waited for death. But what did he see in the clear water? He saw beneath his own image, and he was no longer a clumsy, greyish-black bird, horrid and hideous. He was a swan!
It doesn't matter if you're born in a duck yard when you've been lying inside a swan's egg.
The little duckling is of course accepted, and he is glad he has suffered because it makes him appreciate all the more his new happiness. And, as Andersen notes, when he is admired -
... he felt quite bashful and tucked his head behind his wings. He didn't know what to make of it. He was much to happy, but not in the least proud, because a good heart is never proud. He thought of how he had been badgered and scorned, and now he heard everyone say that he was the loveliest of all the lovely birds. The lilacs dipped their boughs all the way down to him in the water, and the sun shone so warm and fine. Then he ruffled his feathers, raised his slender neck, and rejoiced with all his heart. "I never dreamed of so much happiness when I was the ugly duckling!"


Was there ever such a beautiful story as this! It's about confidence, bullying, coming of age, perception, self-perception, and the impact on one's personality and temperament. Andersen is, of course, a genius.

Finally, some illustrations. These are by Theo van Hoijtema from The Ugly Ducking (1893), and W. Heath Robinson from Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales (1916).

By Hoijtema.
By Hoijtema.


By W. Heath Robinson.
By W. Heath Robinson.
By W. Heath Robinson.
By W. Heath Robinson.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio: Day Four.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt (1868).
The Decameron 

This week is Day Four of The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1348-52), which means I've now read forty out of the hundred stories told by the seven women and three men whilst staying in the countryside of Florence avoiding the Black Death. I've been especially looking forward to Day Four because it contains the famous 'Isabella and the Pot of Basil' story. But for now, I'll start at the beginning!

In Day Four the king of the day is Filostrato (I.vii, II.ii, and III.i) and the theme is "those whose love ended unhappily".

This section begins with what is sometimes known as "the 101st story of The Decameron". Boccaccio addresses his readers and tells the story of Filippo Balducci who lives in a cave with his son having lost his wife. When his son is of age he goes to Florence and is entranced with the young women. His father discourages him however because it is in the son's nature to love women, no amount of discouragement will prevent him from seeking their society. Boccaccio tells this in order to argue to his detractors that he must not be blamed for loving women. The tale probably originates in the Ramayana (रामायणम्), an ancient epic Sanskrit poem.

First Story: This is told by Fiammetta (I.iii, II.ix, III.iii). It's about Tancredi, the Prince of Salerno who arranges a marriage for his daughter Ghismonda to the son of the Duke of Capua. When he dies she returns to the Prince, and she falls in love with Guiscardo, a valet of her fathers. When they are discovered the Prince kills Guiscardo despite his daughter's pleas. When he presents the heart of Guiscardo in a golden chalice she pours poison over it and drinks it, killing herself. A version of this tale is mentioned in the Tristan and Iseult stories of the 12th Century.

Second Story: Told by Pampinea (I.x, II.iii, III.ii), she tells of Alberto della Massa, "a depraved and wicked fellow", who moves to Venice and becomes a monk in order to hide his true identity. He falls in lust with the beautiful Monna Lisetta de Ca' Quirino, and in order to seduce her he tells her he has had a vision from the Angel Gabriel who wishes to meet her. Berto tells Lisetta that Gabriel will assume his, Berto's, body so that Berto is able to have his way with her. Ultimately discovered, punished, and locked away in a monastery for the rest of his days. This tale is likely to be inspired by One Thousand and One Nights (كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة).

Third Story: Narrated by Lauretta (I.viii, II.iv, III.viii), she tells of three sisters (Ninetta, Maddalena, and Bertella). who fall in love with three young men and elope to Crete having stolen a part of their father's fortune. In a fit of jealousy Ninetta kills her husband, and in order to save her from being burned at the stake Maddalena offers herself to the Duke. Her husband finds out and kills her in a fit of rage, Bertella and her husband Ughetto are accused of the murder and are imprisoned, so they bribe the guards to escape. They do and die later in total poverty.

Fourth Story: Told by Elissa (I.ix, II.viii, III.v), it's about Gerbino, the grandson of King William II of Sicily. He plans to kidnap the daughter of the King of Tunis when she is aboard the King's ship following the affair of the two and the revelation the King plans to marry her to the King of Granada. Gerbino attacks the boat and during the attack his lover is killed. The King of Tunis informs King William II who promptly kills Gerbino.

Fifth Story: Told by Filomena (I.iii, II.ix, III.iii) this is probably the most famous story within The Decameron. Lisabetta and Lorenzo are in love, however Lisabetta's brothers find out and murder Lorenzo. Lorenzo appears to the heartbroken Lisabetta in a dream telling her of his fate and he guides her to his body. Unable to move the body she decapitates him and hides his head in a pot of basil which she weeps over. The brothers grow suspicious and take away the pot, and they discover she has hidden the head there. They flee to Naples, meanwhile Lisabetta cries herself to death.

There is no known source for this story, but it went on to inspire John Keats who wrote the 1818 poem Isabella or the Pot of Basil, as well as William Holman Hunt's painting (above), John William Waterhouse's Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1907), and John Everett Millais' Lorenzo and Isabella by Sir John Everett Millais (1849).

Lorenzo and Isabella by John Everett Millais (1849).
Sixth Story: Narrated by Panfillo (I.i, II.vii, III.iv), he tells of two lovers Andreuola and Gabriotto. Andreuola has a dream she believes to be prophetic about Gabriotto dying horribly in the garden, but though she tries she is unable to resist seeing him. She tells him in the garden and he laughs it off, however, quite suddenly, he dies. Their affair has been a secret and the heartbroken Andreuola is left with his body, which she does not know what to do with. She and her maid decide to take the body back to his house at night so they are unseen, however someone does see them. She is accused of murder, but the magistrate tells her she will go unpunished if she sleeps with him. She refuses, and is also later cleared of killing Gabriotto. She enters into a convent, unwilling to live any longer in the world. This was the basis for Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Nun's Tale' in The Canterbury Tales.

Seventh Story: This is told by Emilia (I.vi, II.vi, III.vii) and is again about two lovers, Simona and Pasquino. Like in Panfillo's story told before, Pasquino dies suddenly having rubbed sage on his teeth. The judge questions Simona, believing her incapable of murder, and she shows him what happened by rubbing sage into her teeth. She too dies, and it later emerges that under the sage plant lives a venomous toad.

Eighth Story: Told by Neifile (I.ii, II.i, III.xi), she describes Girolamo and his love for Salvestra, however his family disapproves and send him away to Paris. He returns to find her married, creeps into her house and lies next to her, then he holds his breath until he dies. Salvestra and her husband remove the corpse back to his home. On the day of his burial Salvestra regrets not marrying him. She lies next to him and dies.

Ninth Story: Told by Filostrao (I.vii, II.ii, III.i), the king of the day. He tells of how Guillaume de Roussillon murders his wife's lover and tricks her into eating his heart. After she's eaten it he reveals what he has done and she kills herself by throwing herself out of the window.

Tenth Story: Told by Dioneo (I.iv, II.x, III.x) who breaks from the miserable and gruesome theme of Day Four and tells a story about the wife of Mazzeo Della Montagna, a physician. His young wife feels sexually frustrated so finds a younger lover, Ruggieri d'Aieroli. He is a bad sort and Montagna's wife tries to reform him. One day he finds a drug in the house from Montagna's patient and takes it, leaving him in a corpse-like state. She hides him in a trunk then hides the trunk in someone else's house, he wakes up and is arrested for burglary and sentenced to death. Montagna's wife saves him and they become more in love than ever.

There ends Day Four, a rather depressing day for The Decameron. For Day Five Fiammetta will be queen and the theme is "the adventures of lovers who have survived calamities or misfortunes and attained a state of happiness". 

The Characters of Émile Zola's Rougon Macquart Novels.

In the comments to the previous post, Nana by Émile Zola, Ruth was talking about the difficulty of keeping track of the characters and their relationships in Zola's Rougon Macquart novels, the twenty novels in which Zola writes of the "Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire". Often the image of the genealogy tree commissioned for the publication of Doctor Pascal (Le Docteur Pascal), the final novel, in 1892 is quite small and difficult to read, though there is one online that may be enlarged (I discovered that this morning!).

When I first read the novels I did manage to take notes finding the image impossibly small, and, in November 2013 I made my own list of characters, their relationships, and the books in which they are featured (not a list of all the books the characters are mentioned in, just the main ones). And, as it happens, I also did a tentative list of novels in an order of sequence, that is, the general timeline from 1851 - 1870 in which the action takes place. I never published these at the time, I was saving them for a later date for some reason, but what with Ruth's question, my re-reading of the Rougon Macquart series, and it being Zoladdiction month hosted by Fanda, it seems a good time to put them up on my blog!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Nana by Émile Zola.

1922 edition of Nana published by A. A. Knopf.
Nana was written by Émile Zola and first published in 1880 as part of his 'Rougon Macquart' series. It's sometimes viewed as a sequel to Zola's 1877 novel L'Assommoir; Nana is the daughter of Gervaise Coupeau née Macquart, though Nana did not immediately follow L'Assommoir - between the two novels there is Une Page d'amour (1878). In order of publication, Nana is the ninth part of 'Les Rougon Macquart', in which he looks at, to quote the subtitle, the "Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire" ("Histoire naturelle et sociale d'une famille sous le Second Empire").

The novel Nana had been planned in 1869 when Zola embarked on his Rougon Macquart series, back when the Rougons were going to be the Goirauds and the Macquarts the Bergasses. He imagined,
a novel whose setting is the boudoir world and whose heroine is Louise Duval, the daughter of my working-class family. Just as the offspring of Goiraud, people mired in hedonistic pleasure, is a parasite, so the offspring of the Bergassa, people gone rotten from the vices of poverty, is a creature noxious to society. Besides heredity effects, there is in both cases the fatal influence exercised by the contemporary milieu. Louise is a harlot extraordinaire. Draw the world in which these high-flyers live. Poignant drama about the appetite for luxury and facile pleasures ruining a woman's existence. 
Nana by Édouard Manet completed in 1877, three years
before the publication of Zola's Nana. 'Nana' was slang for
prostitutes in late 19th Century France. Manet may have
been inspired by Zola's L'Asssommoir (1877) but there is
no strong evidence for this.
Nana was born Anna Coupeau in 1852 (a fourth generation Macquart). Her age is of note: in Nana it is clearly said that she is eighteen, and the novel opens in 1867, the year of the World Fair - Exposition universelle de 1867, If she were eighteen, she would have been born in 1849, however the Rougon Macquart family tree that Zola commissioned for the final novel in the series Le Docteur Pascal (1893) states she was born in 1852. Nana, therefore, was fifteen in this novel  and I have no doubt that Zola meant it so. Furthermore it is in keeping with timeline of L'Assommoir. In that, Nana disappears for a period; and this disappearance is covered within Nana.

She is indeed a "harlot extraordinaire". She has left the Paris slums of L'Assommoir and is now a high class prostitute who, in the beginning, also stars in La Blonde Vénus at the Théâtre des Variétés in Montmartre. Her lack of talent is inconsequential: Nana is charismatic, but above all else sensual and voluptuous. The shockingly self-absorbed Nana exploits this, and consequently destroys almost every man she sleeps with. About half way through the novel there is a newspaper article written about her. Zola describes it:
Entitled 'The Golden Fly', Fauchery's piece was about a tart, the offspring of four or five generations of alcoholics, her blood tainted by a long heredity of deep poverty and drink, which in her case had taken up the form of unhinging the nervous balance of her sexuality. She'd been brought up on the streets in a working-class Paris slum and now, a tall and lovely girl with a magnificently sensual body, like a plant flourishing on a dung-heap, she was avenging the poor, unprivileged wretches from whom she'd sprung. While the people were left to rot in degrading circumstances, she would carry this pollution upwards to contaminate the aristocracy. She was turning into a force of nature and, without any intention on her part, a ferment of destruction; between her pump white thighs, Paris was being corrupted and thrown into chaos; she was making it rot in the same way as, every month, women make milk go sour. At the end of the article came the comparison with the fly; a golden fly, the colour of sunshine, escaping from its dung-heap and bringing with it the deadly germs of the carrion allowed to fester by the roadside; dancing and buzzing, as dazzling as a precious stone, it would slip through the windows of palaces and poison the men inside merely by settling on them.
From Zola en Images (1908).
This is the essence of Nana. In her world, the hierarchy is inverted - she, the low class child of the slum is at the top, and the rich and powerful are submissive to her. This perversion of the social order is symptomatic of the hypocrisy and moral decay within the Second Empire that Zola perpetually challenged. It is not so much Nana under attack in Zola's novel but those who pursue her and her kind. In order to survive and escape her impoverished past she must choose this path, and she is able to do so because of existing corruption. Paradoxically she adds to it; she is both a victim and a perpetrator, and though a not very pleasant character, it is hard to escape that fact, particularly when reading Nana after L'Assommoir (it is not necessary to read the Rougon Macquart novels in any specific order, but I do feel this pair is the exception. Nana does not have to be read straight after, but I think it is useful to read L'Assommoir first at some point).

And, of course, Nana adds to Zola's 'frescos' of France during the Second Empire. In this we see, for example, the stock markets (Money, 1891), the markets (The Belly of Paris, 1873), the department store (The Ladies Paradise, 1883), the mines (Germinal, 1885), and now the brothels.

Nana's Daughter.
Nana was met with mixed reviews, which is not surprising (some of which upset Zola who wrote to Jules Laffitte, the editor-in-chief of Le Bien public in which Nana was published, "I confess that it troubles me a bit, on account of the blood lust critics display"). It was loved and loathed in equal measures, some finding it unbelievable and unrealistic; Nana's 'triumphs' being, according to them, inconsistent with her character. Other praised a realistic portrayal of a morally degrading Paris. And it even led to a spin-off - Nana's Daughter by Alfred Sirven and Henri Leverdier (published in the same year as Nana) in which Nana is "picked out of the gutter".

As for me, though it's not a favourite I enjoyed it (if that's the right word) and was disturbed by it. When I first read it a few years ago I read the Tancock translation (Penguin) but this time I read Douglas Parmée's translation (1992) for Oxford World Classics and on the whole I think I preferred it. A strange and compelling novel, not as strong as L'Assommoir perhaps but even so I would recommend it even if it wasn't a part of the Rougon Macquart series.

The next novel in the series is Pot Luck (1882), however I would like to stick with Gervaise's off-spring and read Germinal (1885) next. And it is my favourite novel!
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