Nagging works! and other items
Posted March 11, 2008on:
The local Chapters has finally condescended to restock the London Review of Books! I started nagging them about it a year ago and gave up after 6 months — perhaps it takes them a long, long time to process requests. Likelier is that the move had nothing to do with me. I bought a copy today even though I’m a subscriber as a way to encourage them to keep it up. They should view selling them as a public service move if The Great British Press Disaster has any bearing on newspapers on this side of the Atlantic.
One interesting article (only available to subscribers) is Tobias Gregory’s review of Why Milton Matters: A New Preface to His Writings by Joseph Wittreich. If one listened to Quentin Skinner‘s Lady Margaret’s lecture on Milton’s political writings one got a pretty good sense of how his opinions on government, liberty and religion coincided, diverged or were directly relevant to present times. One thing he was cautious to highlight that although Milton has a sexy rebellious image that some historians may be tempted to airbrush his less attractive views in order to make him more superficially appealing. But although Milton was a proponent for religious freedom he wasn’t magnanimous enough to think that Roman Catholics deserved such a right; he may have espoused equality principles but it was only for gentlemen of a certain class and did not include women of any; nor was he wholly against censorship but thought it necessary that printing presses should have the right to publish papers without pre-approval or special licenses.
Going by Gregory’s review Wittreich should have been required to attend that lecture. The more curious thing I’ve come to learn this year and was ignorant of because Milton did not figure at all in my Jamaican high school education is how fusty Milton’s academic image is. Apparently, modernists like Virginia Woolf and Eliot are partly to blame for the situation, one that is dire enough for Gregory to make what I found to be a suspicious, exaggerated statement:
Milton is the greatest English poet whom it is possible for serious readers to dislike. There are no fans of Marlowe, Jonson or Webster who cannot also find pleasure in Shakespeare; there are no admirers of Piers Plowman or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight who cannot also appreciate The Canterbury Tales. But it is not hard to find enthusiastic readers of Marvell or Spenser or Dryden or Donne who cannot warm to Milton, and make no apology for it.
O RLY? I felt an urge to try some Chaucer to prove him wrong. Maybe I hate Marlowe’s plays with an unprecedented fervour yet uncovered because I haven’t read them (yet?). I’m not even sure why he grouped folks like Marvell or Donne with Milton — the first two’s style don’t strike me as being similar to Milton’s at all. Just grouping all same century writers then? I guess I’ve become a bit sensitive about it because every single piece of media coverage I’ve seen on Milton so far first establishes how nobody likes him any more. Eh.
For more popular poetry hop on over to Blog Meridian where John B. blogs about his classroom experiences in teaching “Stopping By Woods on a Snow Evening”: A Thank You. The most intriguing bits for me were the interpretations John and his students discussed in class. That Robert Frost poem is one I first encountered on my own — I wriggled in my chair in glee during a high school English exam (CXC aka ‘O’ levels) once because it appeared on the paper, along with The Wild Swans at Coole by Yeats and no, I don’t know why I remember this — and until now only ever appreciated the visual picture created in my mind. The lines’ rhythm stand out too, especially in the last stanza, but really my first response to the poem whenever I think or read about it it is a mental picture of a man (hazily outlined) on a horse in a forest in the evening with the snow falling softly. John provides a bonus poem too of another Frost poem about someone wandering in the forest: The Wood-pile (which was new to me). For an oldie but goodie posted around this time last year consider lotusgreen’s visual accompaniment to “Stopping By Woods…” at Japonisme.
As an aside, I did not remember the title of the Yeats poem when I composed this post or any lines of it. What I retained was an image, too, of birds (I first thought of geese but that was a different poem) by a lake, by a tree, at evening about to take flight. I also remember having more difficulty with the Yeats poem questions than the Frost. 😛
We move on from mental to actual pictures. Sara at A Different Stripe, the NYRB classics blog, is asking for photos of reader’s “Classics in the wild: at a bookstore, arranged on your bookshelf, propping up an uneven table, anything.” I sent two year old photos in and I know that Stefanie at So Many Books took a picture of one of her book shelves, once, which had some classics. One of the internet’s many pleasures is book shelf ogling so I hope all you classics owners with cameras hop to it.