The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Is it too early for lunch?

Posted on: February 7, 2008

Shall I have to add poor ol’ Alfred, Lord Tennyson to the next Outmoded authors list? Yesterday, an English professor’s shocked inquiry revealed that I was not in a course that required me to read Idylls of the King, no, not even an English grad student, but a social sciences scoundrel reading it of her own free will. What is the world coming to? Especially when the professor was kind enough to inform me that Tennyson is too dated to bother with, why don’t I try some Ezra Pound? I’ll show you Ezra Pound.

A chance meander into one of the religious affiliated college’s library resulted in my departure with a bag full of free books. This is the same library that gave away a prime, clearly-never-read copy of Paulina 1880. (Have I linked to this book often enough? You know you want to buy it.)

The Last Chronicle of Barset (Riverside editions) – Anthony Trollope
Only a few inked scribbles. Broken spine but still looking good.

Adam Bede (New American Library) – George Eliot
One loose page but otherwise fair. Amusing Mills & Boonesque cover. Reminds me of some of my older Margaret Laurence books.

Joseph Andrews (New American Library) – Henry Fielding
Rather worse for wear but it’s free so I’m not complaining. Not even sure what the book is about, too excited to prevent my eyes from jittering all over the book before stuffing it into my bag. Both NAL books are labeled “Signet Classics” so I’m guessing they were published pre-Penguin ownership.

Point Counter Point (Penguin Modern Classics) – Aldous Huxley
Another old edition. The cover art moves more into artsy Harlequin territory. I remember litlove saying that Huxley is arguably outmoded because no one reads anything except Brave New World (if that).

The Confessions of Nat Turner (Signet novel) – William Styron
Something about either the title or the author clicked a bell so I picked it up. On closer inspection I see that is, horrors, a historical novel on slavery in the American south (two of my major Things to Avoid). However, the cover proclaims it is not only a Pulitzer prize winner but an “all-time best seller” with quotes from The New Republic and The New York Times hailing it as ” the most profound fictional treatment of slavery in our literature” and “A TRIUMPH“, respectively. Who could resist? (Well, I could quite easily but we’ll see.)

Wild Geese (New Canadian Library) – Martha Ostenso
Here is an author and book I’ve never heard of before but the cover describes it as “A brilliant study of human cruelty and human love” and the back promises a female character “as wild as a broncho and as vivid as a tigress”, which was something timid Canadian readers in 1925 were not used to at all, at all. It made me the think of The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence which is probably what made me pick it up.

Selected Works of John Dryden (Rinehart editions)
I’m not familiar with his work at all, outside of a few poems, and he’s not someone whose books I would seek out so this was a nice catch. There’s everything here from poetry to “prologues and epilogues” to verse essays and criticisms. Not sure what the prologues and epilogues are about.

This edition sports a previous owner’s doodle of two birds — ducks? penguins? ducguins? — one of whom has stretched out his neck to give a loud…bird noise of some kind. Bird call. You know.

Checked my stats this morning and saw a Paris Review webmail referral peeking at me. Well. *shuffles* I know that I have often been rather…liberal when quoting material from your marvellous, marvellous publication. *twists fingers* Hopefully, you’re not composing any horrid Take-it-down-or-we’ll-SUE emails. (Incidentally, did you really have to add that ad of a girl peeking over her shoulder in some old-timey bikini on your bookmarks? Couldn’t you get another entity more bookish interested in that spot? Something artsier than a damn hotel (one I’m sure that is lovely)?)


13 Responses to "Is it too early for lunch?"

1. If Tennyson goes on the Outmoded list, Pound should follow.
2. Are the Dryden prologues and epilogues the essays he attached to his published plays? If so, they very much worth reading, lit crit landmarks – maybe the first time sometime wrote down his thoughts about literature merely because he loved books. They’re conversational in tone and more enjoyable than his plays.

Good haul.

That’s the best incentive for me to refrain from putting Tennyson on the list. Thanks. 😉

And yes, the prologues & epilogues do appear to be ones he wrote for his and other plays, including Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Did not know that they were so highly regarded so I’m looking forward to them now — thanks for the info.

Now I’d imagine that there aren’t tons of people who read Tennyson for fun, but that still doesn’t justify the shocked response from that professor, and it certainly doesn’t justify the recommendation that you read Pound, who is nothing like Tennyson whatsoever. How obnoxious is that?

I’d agree although that’s true for poetry in general, or so it seems. My umbrage clouded the fact that he made the suggestion in a humorous tone but yes, beneath that I did sense some slight admonishment at why I was wasting time with knights and fair maidens.

Yeesh, it’s maddening that literature students are more or less required to teach themselves pre-twentieth century literature (apart from Shakespeare) these days. Both my undergraduate and graduate programs were exclusively devoted to, you know, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Jacques Lacan, and Grace Paley. I never even heard the name Dryden until I was 25. And I paid enormous sums of money to go to school!

Another name meaningless to me until I was out of school was Anthony Trollope; but now I adore the Barsetshire Chronicles and am slowly working through them. You’ve got the final one, so it might be worth starting with the second, Barchester Towers (the first, The Warden, is a little unspectacular).

Geez, I like this blog.

I thank the gods that my university was biased towards Shakespeare and the literature of the 19th century. And when I sat in on a lecture on the Romantic poets (Tennyson was on the syllables), I was very much welcomed, even though I wasn’t taking the course.

I give thanks to uni lecturers who believe anyone who doesn’t read and learn outside the syllables are inferior.

I never found the taste for Old Ezra. *yawn*

Tennyson’s “Ulysses” however, is still one of my favourite poem after all these years out of school.

What! “The Warden” is a lovely little book. Not “spectacular”, but who reads Trollope for the spectacle?

Sam instinctively I was going to say that my school career was different (pre-college) but after more thought that’s actually not the case. Still, it’s because, being in Jamaica, we studied more Caribbean literature, which necessitated a 20th century focused. Even the Anglo works were 20th century, except for a few poems in the anthologies we had, and Shakespeare, of course. It wasn’t until 6th form that pre-20th century lit got the edge, as two out of the three covered that area.

I’m wondering now how I came across Dryden. Hmm. With the poems it was probably through random Bartleby searches. (When bored I sometimes pop a keyword into their verse search to see what comes up.) And in my own readings I’d come across his name here and articles on him in the TLS.

It’s odd, come to think of it, how the constant cry about how old, conservative and irrelevant English literature texts are yet, besides Shakespeare, are most high school students getting anything older than Hemingway, really?

I still fondly remember a MFA student who told me that prose in books older than Nabokov started to read a little archaic. Sigh.

And thanks for the compliment. 🙂

Dark Orpheus I typically expected most English departments to at least have a good bit of courses settled aside for the Victorians.

When the professor approached me I smugly assumed that he was about to be impressed by my intellectual curiosity and perhaps I could ask him some questions about the bits of Welsh mythology that popped into “The Marriage of Geraint”. So I probably deserved the ego deflation.

“Ulysses” and “Tithonus” are two of my absolute favourites, and I intend for the first to be read at my funeral. Because of the Moravia I recently read Ulysses’ speech Dante’s Inferno that everyone cited as one of Tennyson’s inspiration for the poem.

Amateur Reader lol I’m sure that if I like this last one a lot I’ll read all the books in the series. The introduction writer for The Last Chronicle regarded it well.

“Tithonus” was my introduction to Tennyson. It was during the A Levels for Practical Criticism. The tragedy in the poem was so beautiful that it stayed with me for a very long time.

Matt mentioned Moravia in the context of Tennyson. Now I’m curious.

It’s good that you have your funeral planned out. But “Ulysses” is a good choice. 🙂

Yes, yes, no slight to “The Warden” intended–it’s just that I’m always afraid someone will read it, shrug benignly, and put Trollope away forever. But that would NEVER happen after a cracklingly funny book like “Barchester Towers.”

And your suspicion is correct–for the vast majority of lit students today, literature begins after World War I.


So glad to see you cutting against the grain. Tennyson insists on using all the available tools for poetry, and that is long out of fashion with academics and academic poets. Rhyme, meter, pleasure in sound, a conviction beyond mere taste: these the academy so often thinks fusty.

Perhaps you ought to read Longfellow next! I like a good deal of his poetry, and it has the variety in form and content that one finds in Tennyson.

Apparently! Which is why I’m often content with pursuing my literary interests outside of the academy.

Yes, Longfellow does have a similar old fashioned reputation, doesn’t he? I’ll look at the collections my school has. Thanks for visiting!

I’ve only read Sophie’s Choice–but I love William Styron’s writing!! Sadly I think he could also be added to the outmoded authors list.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: