The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Times Literary Supplement, Mar. 9, 2007

Posted on: March 15, 2007

Oh, isn’t it a relief to see something up that’s not from The Paris Review? (I may be projecting.) The TLS has been giving a lot of prime space to biographies lately, the most recent review, Edmund Burke: not for Neocons written by Jonathan Clark who reviewed Edmund Burke Volume Two: 1784-1797 by F.P. Lock. Clark is impressed with Locke’s scholarship so far, considering him the foremost writers on Burke at present, making good use of The Writing and Speeches of Burke, edited by P. J. Marshall .

Burke, one of England’s greatest orators, has been interpreted differently over the years, and Lock is apparently of the group who argue that his ideas and principles stem from his Anglican Latitudianarianism. (What a word.) The volume concentrates specifically, among other things, on his actions during the trial to impeach William Hastings, unconventionally making it a central period in Burke’s life during 1788-95. Lock also covers Burke’s tenacious stand against the French Revolution, taking the side of the Church and Monarchy, accusing the revolutionaries not only of regicide but atheism. Clarke almost manages to make the book sound thrilling.

There was also a lot of theatre studies articles. The two that caught my eye were “Of points” by Judith Flanders and A gendered stage by Michael Caines. Flanders reviews a Balanchine biography by Robert Gottlieb, a former board member of the New York City Ballet, the company Balanchine founded. In George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker, Gottlieb provides with a good overview or summation of the eminent choreographer’s life and career, showing distinction in his coverage of the New York City Ballet years. Flanders writes that its success may seem preordained but Gottlieb reveals the years of emotional turmoil, dry spells and dead ends. His work is not shallow: he wisely avoids trying to explain Balanchine’s genius, accurately describing his enigmatic and seemingly contradictory personality. Flanders also gives a concise introduction to Balanchine, asserting that most in the ballet world consider him the choreographer of the 20th century, crystallizing the modern in his neoclassical style.

Michael Caines reviewed Treading the Bawds: Actresses and playwrights on the late-Stuart stage by Gilli Bush-Bailey and Fatal Desire by Jean Marsden. Caines considers them to be good companion volumes because Marsden’s book focuses solely on the careers, the theatrical work of the actresses while Bush-Bailey includes the personal and business sides. He uses Elizabeth Barry as an anchor to his article, discussing the myth of the Earl of Rochester being the major instrument in securing Barry’s place as a premier actress in theatre. Or so says Bush-Bailey who argues that it was the women with whom Barry lived, all of them either theatre company managers and holders of equally relevant roles that set the example for her to follow. In Treading the Bawds Bush-Bailey seeks to eradicate the present dominance of the male narrative in theatre history by revising the older accounts of how theatre developed during this time, which also played down the importance of women.

Caines finds it informative but questions some of the uncritical leaps of logic she makes to interpret certain documents to support her premise. In Marsden we learn more of the she-tragedy, defined as “the suffering and often tragic end of a central, female figure”. Predictably this often involves women suffering for their sexual transgressions, whether or not they were active agents or wronged victims.

The “N.B.” is my favourite regular feature. There are always amusing, arched and ironic commentary on interesting literary titbits. Along with an auction catalogue in which “bargain” items are a mere two thousand pounds we have some pointed commentary on one of the events BBC did for World Book Day, which was on March 1st. It hosted some kind of talk between Ross Leckie, author of the odious Bluffer’s Guide to Classics and John Sutherland, TLS contributor and “professor to the people”. Apparently they were brought to discuss War and Peace or something, a book only one of them had read. The writer of the BBC report put up on the website seemed very supportive of Leckie, lazily commenting on how little time people have these days and blah blah. Here’s the bit I liked, not the best example of J.C.’s humour but the only one I remembered to write down.

” Mr. Leckie tried to read War and Peace but gave up ‘although he has a love of Russian literature and is quite knowledgeable of the country’s culture’. He must have comparable knowledge of American culture, as he has held conversations about Moby-Dick, which he has also failed to read. Of Paradise Lost he says, “there are moments of English Language and poetry at its most quintessential”. (aaaaaaaaaaaahhahahahahahahahahaha.) Mr. Leckie is all for short books. “Any fool can be long-winded. It is being short that’s hard.” The Bluffer’s Guide to Classics is 62 pages long, which ought to ensure its classic status.”

Also noted was a prisoner who wrote to the Threepenny Review, expressing his special thanks at the quality of the journal in light of the fact that he was in prison and it was very difficult to get any decent material in that provided coverage of a varied number of topics. Then he apologised for his writing as he could not get a pair of reading glasses “in the hole”. J.C. was both dismayed and charmed at the idea of some poor wretch deprived of everything but the comfort of a good journal, so, while he can’t match the Threepenny’s free year subscription (or whatever it as) he offered said prisoner copy of the TLS if he wanted it.

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5 Responses to "Times Literary Supplement, Mar. 9, 2007"

I love a post on the TLS. I enjoy the “NB” section as well, but find that the Commentaries are usually the thing I look forward to most upon opening to the Table of Contents.

Those theater books sound very interesting. I’m always on the lookout for good criticism from that time period.

Ted usually I’d say the same but for some reason the past few Commentaries haven’t attracted my attention at all. One of those things.

Dorothy ooo, I forgot to mention that there were two reviews of books on the 18th century novel! (I *do* wish the TLS website would keep a record of the past few table of contents.) I can’t remember the details at present, except that one was about the experimentation with novel form that was explored in a few books (I think).

Congratulations on a GREAT blog. I hope to come back and read more soon!

Wow, thanks for the praise JCR. It is much appreciated.

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