Saturday, January 24, 2015

On the Fanciful Parts of the Preceding

Frontispiece from the 1941 reprint of an edition of Palgrave's Golden Treasury (Garden City, 1907) with four color plates "reproduced from paintings by Maxfield Prarrish".  They are not all in the same Parrish maniera, and I cannot believe that they were done expressly for this book, otherwise an unillustrated text of Palgrave, ending with Wordsworth.  The list of illustrations gives as a caption to this one Shakespeare's "Tell me where is Fancy bred, Or in the heart or in the head?"  But I know of no Maxfield Parrish more charming per se than this one.  I found the book in a secondhand bin, and it is not only ex-library but ex-School Library and in condition by no means 'collectible.

Who Has Maxfield Parrish Prints Today?

My grandmother, until well after WW II, still had the pair of reproductions of two of those Maxfield Parrish horizontal paintings of mildly symbolic character with titles such as Evening or Summer Dream; one of the theaters (the Curran?) in San Francisco had his paintings, but vertical, on its walls (at least, I thought they were his…).  From the first decades of the 20th century more of his work was illustrations for books or magazines, like the lantern-lighting by young persons dressed like Pierrots, above.  One caption in Google Images says it came from Collier's magazine, for 1908 (that illustrated Palgrave went through several printings, down to 1930).  One caption in the Images says it was by a follower of Parrish's, but only one.  No matter.  
It exemplifies what Parrish did, and it probably was inspired by the Sargent painting, which is still popular today and which I first saw reproduced in one of my grandmother's ladies' magazines.  When finally I saw the original Carnation Lily Lily Rose and had developed a lifetime admiration for everything that Sargent ever did, it only renewed my passion for Sargent's work: see the Tate Gallery's page on it, linked above.
Parrish was not a great painter, as Sargent was, but he was very good indeed (though the dreamy evening landscapes may pall).  And my love of Sargent explains why I bought that grubby Palgrave (already owning a couple in decent editions) about a quarter century ago.!scribners-illustrated-classics-/cyev
A couple of other titles in that Classics edition also were illustrated by Parrish.
You will wager that I also unrepentantly love Jessie Wilcox Smith, and I do; I met her in the illustrations for A Child's Garden of Verses, also published in that fine series of Scribner's reprints c. 1955.  As for R. L. Stevenson, his Treasure Island in that series was illustrated by N. C. Wyeth, and the whole Illustrated Classics is a cultural treasure, in my opinion.
It is not a question, I think, of Post-Impressionism and Cubism being good and figural subjects (especially illustrations) being bad, as Art, but of the best in any category, if objectively of enduring value, being worthy of lifetime study and pleasure.
Similarly with generations (this does seem super-obvious, even objectionable): in distinguishing generations of authors (or other artists) D. E. Stevenson's 'Janetta Walters' (née Jane Watts) in the Barbara Buncle novels seems to be indistinguishable from the authors who publish in Harlequin Books (for example), is a spoof that could be made today; the novels for sale at Walmart, for example, are just like the romantic "bodice busters" that my mother got in the mail from the Dollar Book Club, and they still sell just as well.  What is astonishing, in fact, about D. E. Stevenson is her consistency in writing marriage-in-the-end novels for a more literate feminine readership.  I may have read no bodice-busters since I was in school, but I have enjoyed six of hers (which are not prudish but certainly decent).  But I am not much of a judge, because detective stories are the fiction I tolerate best.
Anyway, A. F. Benson (of the same cohort as, say, Picasso or V. Woolf—actually, of Henri Matisse) was fully a generation older than D. E. Stevenson.  Both wrote a lot, simply had to write, it seems.  Both are writers that I enjoy for their writing and for their literary high fun.  But his most enduring work, I think, will be Mapp and Lucia, rather late in his career, and hers, I venture (not having read so many) will be the Barbara Buncles, which are relatively early in her career.  His c. 1930  are his most free-wheeling (I think of that trip on the kitchen table), but hers  proceed from the onset of WW II to become more conventional from a literary point of view.  I mean, I like A.F. Benson so well that I'll even read his ghost stories, though it is not a genre that appeals much to me, apart from The Turn of the Screw.
By the way, I've gotten round to Benson memoirs, and I cannot recommend As We Were too highly (just get past the first chapter).  Free and easy but discrete and insightful memoirs of an Archbishop of Canterbury's son must be very rare indeed.
I must not try to summarize all the pleasures of a Great Depression child in the literature of her (or his, I'm sure) parents and grandparents.  And I am somewhat limited by the eye-ease of Kindle (and other electronic) editions.  And I let this go stale while I reacted to the World.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"The First Family" (1962)

Not that he needs another portrait, but freezing weather demands a bed on the denim jeans.
Some folks feel that pets' comfort in sleeping on unwashed clothes that retain their owner's personal scent betrays nasty taste.  They forget that dogs follow scents and that cats who couldn't care less what an opossum looks like are greatly put off by their specific odor.  I have a neighbor whose cat for years found his way around quite easily when he'd been blinded by glaucoma.  As for Buster and my bluejeans, they are to him recognizable as a cub's den, where kits find one another and pile up till their mother returns from hunting.

I had in mind to head this posting by (a) a cartoon, and (b) by an album cover:  All the dozens of reproductions of (b) are under copyright, and, I guess, so is the cartoon (a), which I recall seeing in The New Yorker just after the death of Pope John XXIII; some of you will recall that he called Vatican Council II and that he was famous for having come of peasant stock and being far more open-minded than Pius XII.  The caption was, "He was a good pharaoh" and it illustrated some rather housewifely Egyptian women (water jars on their heads) processing past pyramids, palms, and camels.  I have searched and searched for the cartoon but only located the caption for it.  So Buster is their stand-in.
As I recall, the Kennedys did not object very much to the LP record, and I never heard of the Church objecting to the pyramids.  Queen Victoria's offense at all sorts of improprieties (which astonishes us) was not something she'd deign to mention, and her subjects, one gathers, took for granted their license to be somewhat rude in their humor, just as Halévy and Offenbach used Jupiter's hypocritical womanizing when they figured him as Napoleon III and represented the personified Public Opinion as a rigorously judgmental Victorian lady in black.  When all bored Olympus begged 'Jupin' to take them along with Orpheus when Propriety demanded his return there, no one thought that the preference for Hades/Hell was sacrilegious.

My generation, which since WW II had regarded our presidents (and the UK royal family, too), and the Church, both Catholic and Protestant (consider Norman Rockwell pictures) as inherently serious, loved Pope John XXIII, even if some of us were non-believers who privately loved "The Merry Minuet" and did not take the words of Christmas songs literally, inwardly whooped and hollered at "The First Family" (which is still available from Amazon, by the way) when it came out, not least because we really enjoyed the Kennedy family, with Jackie speaking French in France, with the lovely little children, and all.  How great to make fun of grass-roots idealization of them!  It wasn't as if Pres. Kennedy hadn't real problems to deal with.  It wasn't as if they were really plaster saints, either.  But what joy to laugh with the songs on the LP record, how great to be free to do so.
Then, of course, he was shot.  Me, without a word, I put away the record.  Sure, they weren't saints, but their human loss...

It is not, of course, that France was the first nation to turn the unbearable into comedy.  Greece and Rome  (Japan, too) had done so, and gloriously.
Our European tradition springs from Greece.  I'll just mention Aristophanes.  At least as irreverent as CharlieHebdo, and still profoundly funny.
The Athenian Theophrastus encapsulated tiresome Athenian types in his Characteres, and in the 17th century Jean de la Bruyère published a French version that is quite faithful to Theophrastus (himself a follower of Aristotle). for Jean de la Bruyère's close version of Theophrastus.
The old Loeb classical library for Jebb's edition, Greek facing English, is available at   Jebb is hard to compete with: the text of the Characcteres is lucid Attic Greek, but you do need to know the finer meaning of the key words in context (just using the Latin equivalent given in a standard dictionary is often unenlightening at best and robs the work of its edge).  One English edition offered in Amazon is not only unedited (OCR not checked; punctuation abused) but just plain bad.  It is the one touted for having illustrations of the types.
If there's a new Loeb volume, I'll come back to add it.

How can any of our talking heads forget Rabelais?  Some of CharlieHebdo is Gargantua indeed.

Even the best broadcast commentary, the best I have found being that on NPR's "On the Media", does not mention the Greek and Roman (think of Juvenal!) roots of our tradition.  These roots are in fact older than Islam (not that a few centuries matter, of course).  Here are some links to start with: for Jean de la Bruyère's close version of Theophrastes for Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel

Some of the broadcast commentary explaining the problems in refraining from reproducing CharlieHebom has been especially good: