Archives for September 19, 2007
This week I’ve been rereading Possession, which is up there with Middlemarch for great novels to read when you’re snarled, low and the sleeves of your cardigan are stuffed with Kleenex (suck it, ragweed season). I’ve been reading Madwoman in the Attic, too, and Byatt’s novel makes a satisfying counterpoint.
The New York Times has a nice page devoted to A.S. Byatt, which includes these tidbits:
• When the book became an unlikely bestseller in the United States, in the winter of 1990, Byatt was asked to speculate on the reason for its popularity. She responded, “It’s like the books people used to enjoy reading when they enjoyed reading … It has a universal plot, a classic romantic plot and a classic detective plot. And the plot was more important than anything else in it. People can get the sort of pleasure out of it they got out of the old romantic novel.”
• In another interview, Byatt described the spark for the novel:
Sometime in the early 1970’s, Ms. Byatt recalled, she spotted a well-known Coleridge scholar in the British Museum Library and mused that much of what she knew of Coleridge had been filtered through that individual, who had devoted a lifetime to her study of the Romantic poet. ”I thought, it’s almost like a case of demonic possession, and I wondered – has she eaten up his life or has he eaten up hers?”
• Also worth a read, this lengthy but fascinating interview with Éditions Paradigme. In it, Byatt notes, “I think there are a lot of rather romantic novels rather like Possession that believe themselves to be influenced by Possession and rather depress me,” which made me laugh.
• Byatt’s ode to Middlemarch.
Every now and then I like to check in and see what the English naturalist Gilbert White was noticing this time of year. So many of his journal entries, their language sparing and concise, amount to a sort of accidental poetry. Here are his reports on a stretch of September days in 1777:
Sept. 14. Black cluster-grapes begin to turn color. A tremendous & awful earthquake at Manchester, & the district round. The earthquake happened a little before eleven o’ the clock in the forenoon, when many of the inhabitants were assembled at their respective places of worship.
Sept. 17. The sky this evening, being what they call a mackerel sky, was most beautiful, & much admired in many parts of the country. Footnote. As the beautiful mackerel sky was remarked & admired at Ringmer, near Lewes, London, & Selborne at the same time; it is a plain proof that those fleecy clouds were very high in the atmosphere. These places lie in a triangle whose shortest base is more than 50 miles. Italian skies! Full moon. The creeping fogs in the pastures are very picturesque & amusing [interesting] & represent arms of the sea, rivers, & lakes.
Sept. 18. [Findon] Deep, wet fog. Sweet day.
Sept. 19. [Chilgrove] Ring-ousels on the downs on their autumnal visit. Lapwings about on the downs attended by starlings; few stone-curlews. Sweet Italian skies. The foliage of the beeches remarkably decayed & rusty.
Sept. 20. Some corn abroad: a vast burden of straw, & many ricks.
Sept. 24. The walks begin to be strewed with leaves. Vivid Northern Aurora.
I previously blogged White last August, here.
“Artists are simple-hearted souls. Today they sign this, tomorrow that; they don’t even look to see what it is, so long as it seems to them well-meaning.”
Adolf Hitler (quoted in Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics)