To Be Or… Not

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none… including the Bard himself.

The Prince, the Dame, Benedict Cumberbatch and David Tennant:

UPDATE: Well, this clip stopped working on YouTube after a day or so. BBC on its site shows it only to the Brits, and perhaps to a few other chosen one. Try it, perhaps you are the one, too.

There is a “clip of a clip” in The Telegraph   Prince Charles plays Hamlet in brilliant BBC sketch alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen.

On May 3rd of this year, the world will mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.


Blue Star. A Fairy Tale

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Paris-based artist Saré (aka Evgenia Sarkissian) created a world of these odd little creatures she calls Zyuziki (plural). They are bumpy in all the wrong places. They stand together in weird ways. They wear weird things, decorated in odd ways.

“What seems ugly to us,they proudly reveal, and that does not make them ridiculous in the eyes of other Zyuziki. For us, yes, it may look like that, but to me it just means that we are not able to see ourselves. Who created the criteria of beauty? What does the appearance mean? How important is it? I suspect that we have different answers to these questions, and their answers I do not know. But, perhaps to their credit, ask us those questions and make us think,” Saré says in defense of her Zyuziki.sare7

This post meant to be titled Meet The Artist: Saré (Evgenia Sarkisian) — a part of the Meet The Artist series of posts. It isn’t, though, because the cute little world of Zyuzikis reminded me of a certain fairy tale — Blue Star by the Russian writer Aleksandr Kuprin (1870-1938.)

I couldn’t find an English translation of it — not sure it even exists, so I’ll  give you my own brief retelling. Here we go.

Once upon a time, since time immemorial, on the high plateau separated from the world by steep cliffs, deep gorges and thick forests lived peaceful, pastoral people.

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A long time ago, no one remembers how many centuries back, a small regiment of strong, tall, clad in iron men crossed the treacherous rivers, climbed the steep mountains and reached this bucolic country.

The warriors liked what they found — a heavenly country with its gentle people, warm climate, delicious water and fertile land. There was no fight to conquer the pastoral country, for its peaceful inhabitants knew no evil, weapons or war. Thus the knights shed their heavy armor and decided to settle in these beautiful lands. Soon enough they won the hearts of local girls and married them.sare55Their leader, valiant and noble Earn, became their King, and the country got its name, Earnaterra, since and forever.sare12 It was he, Earn the First, who taught the people of Earnaterra husbandry and horticulture.sare1 He opened them to writing and art. He gave them the rudiments of law and religion.sare17 Earn the First remembered the temptations, debauchery and wickedness prevailing in the “educated countries down there” he left behind, thus he ruled to destroy the mountain path to Earnaterra, making the heavenly land forever unreacheable by any means whatsoever.sare6Under the good and wise rule of various kings all of them named Earn, not knowing wars, crime and poverty for thousand years, beautiful Ernaterra blossomed magnificently. Through the generations, the descendants of the knights became indistinguishable from the local population — there was no longer any visible difference in either language or appearance. The physique of the ancient knights was completely absorbed and dissolved in the native looks.sare44The language of the warriors, largely forgotten even by the kings, was used only at the court, in the most solemn ceremonies, often for expression of either elevated emotions or high concepts. sare9The memories of Earn the First, Earn the Great and Earn the Holy remained forever immortalized in beautiful, enduring legends — the creation of national lore.sare88A number of items that belonged to Earn the First were lovingly preserved in the ancient royal castle:  his armor, his helmet, a sword, a spear and a few unintelligible words the king carved out with the tip of his dagger on the wall of his hunting room.

None of the Earnaterrans could lift this armor even an inch off the ground or swing the heavy sword, even with both hands, and no one could make sense out of the inscription on the wall. The three images of the king were also preserved. One was a mosaic tableau bearing Earn’s profile, another  was a painted portrait and yet another — a statue carved of marble.

It must be said that every one of the three images of Earn the First were created with great love, artfulness and craftsmanship. Nonetheless, they were the subject of constant grieving. You see, the gentle Earnaterrans who adored their first monarch, the great, wise, just, holy Earn, collectively agreed — and with great sadness — that Earn the First was  exceptionally unattractive. His face, although neither evil or repulsive, was, well, extraordinary ugly by the high aesthetic standards of Earnaterra. sare3This is to say  that Earnaterrans have been enormously proud of their own inherent beauty.
sare77An ugly appearance of their first king has been forgiven, of course, thanks to the legendary beauty of his soul.sare.jpg

The laws of inherent similarities sometimes present people with strange whims. From time to time, a child is born looking nothing like his/her father or mother, not even like his/her grandparent or great grandparents, resembling, however, some distant ancestor generations removed.

Chroniclers recorded the births of an exceptionally ugly sons that sometimes occurred in the Earn royal family, although in the course of history these phenomena became more and more rare. Interesting that these ugly princes often possessed great high spiritual qualities: kindness, intelligence, cheerfulness. Such a fair mercy for the unfortunate fate of the august freaks reconciled Earnaterrans with them in spite of the people being very judgmental in matters of beauty and appearance.

Good King Earn XXIII was a remarkably handsome man. He fell passionately in love and married the most beautiful girl of the nation. sare11The royal couple remained childless for a very long time: ten years, counting from the wedding. One can imagine the jubilation of the people when in the eleventh year the welcome news that their beloved queen is with child. The people rejoiced doubly because with the royal birth a straight line of the crown inheritance was going to be restored. Earnaterrans were delighted when the  Princess Erna XIII was born.sare31Meanwhile, in the royal palace, the court midwife took a newborn baby in her arms and shook her head with great sadness. The fair queen glanced at her daughter and clasped her hands.

“Oh, my God, how ugly!” she lamented and burst into tears. But, in a moment, she came to her senses and said, “No, no, let me hold my little darling.  I’ll love her twice as much — the poor baby is so ugly.”

“Ah,” said the august father, “The fate is so cruel!  I’ve heard of ugly princes in our dynasty, but the ugly princess is the first in the noble House of Earns. Let us pray that beautiful soul, heart and mind outweigh her physical appearance.”

The faithful people of Earnaterra wholeheartedly agreed. Let the newborn Infanta be of a beautiful spirit.

Princess Earna, meanwhile, grew by leaps and bounds, was cheerful and healthy child, growing ever uglier with every passing day, bearing striking resemblance to the portraits of the Earn the First. She was a beautiful soul possessing lovely inner qualities: kindness, patience, humility, attention to others, love for people and animals, clear, lively, precise mind and unfailing affability.

At this point, we’ll abandon Sare’s art, for, obviously, Princess Earna was no Zyuik… segur_seven_crow_princes

…and considerably speed up the pace of the storytelling. One of the reasons of this hastiness is a spring snowstorm in Colorado. It damped over a foot of snow on Boulder, about a ton of which landed on our driveway and needs to be shoveled ASAP.IMG_20160416_152120.jpg

Thus, brevis in longo: To spare their ugly daughter’s feelings, her beautiful parents abolished mirrors in Ernaterra. For a very long time she had no idea how different she looks from Ernaterrans. A chance discovery of a single shard of mirror in her old nanny’s trunk devastated Earna. Distraught, she run into the mountains. There, she rescued a young man hanging off the cliff. He was tall and, by far, the ugliest creature she’d ever seen, speaking gibberish in a language that later has been revealed as French.

The French prince — and that who he was, for it is a fairy tale — nursed to health by Earna, had no trouble handling the ancient armor of King Earn the First and falling in love with a beautiful (oh, sorry, ugly)  princess. “Oh, my love, how sad I’m not the most beautiful girl of Earnaterra!” she said. “Thank gods for that, my beloved blue star!” said the prince in Earnaterran. They married, departed to France, had an ugly (oh, sorry, beautiful) baby son.  Poor Earna was happy to end up living among ugly people. Only the birth of an equally ugly child changed her perception of beauty. And also the revelation that the words carved on the wall of Earn the First’s hunting room in Latin said, “The men of my country are smart, loyal and hardworking, the women — honest, kind and intelligent. But — God forgive them! — they are exceptionally ugly people.”

The Endprince


War And Peace In 12 Words

w88.PNGThe BBC newest adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy’s epic is causing a lot of controversy and discussion in Runet. Should the screen adaptation strive to achieve maximum adherence to the literary source?

Well, there are adaptations and… adaptations. Of them all, perhaps, the most surprising is the one created, back in 2013, by Canadian Cozy Classics that turned an epic novel into a little board-book for the tiniest readers with cozy felt (like in felt fabric) illustrations.
wCanadian publisher managed to reduce the large-scale work to… 12 words, suitable for tiny toots.w44As children get older, parents can expand on the stories in ever more elaborate ways. If you need a little help, just use the brief synopsis on the back of each book or the longer synopses (the Cozyversion), encourages the publisher.

But there’s no right or wrong way to read Cozy Classics. Use the words and images as prompts to invent stories of your own and encourage your children to do the same.

THE COZY VERSION (according to the Cozy Classics):

After the Russian Army is crushed by the French at the Battle of Austerlitz, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky returns home, wounded and disillusioned. His friend Pierre Bezukhov, who has inherited his father’s fortune and become a Count, encourages Andrei to see the good in life, but Andrei remains unhappy.w99Then one day, Andrei sees young Natasha Rostova running through a field, dressed in yellow, and is struck by her zest for life.w3 A few years later at a New Year’s Eve ball, Pierre encourages Andrei to dance with Natasha.w1 Enamored, Andrei proposes, but his skeptical father makes him put off the wedding for a year. During their year apart, Natasha proves inconstant, and the wedding is called off.w4 Pierre comforts Natasha in her time of need.  In 1812, when Napoleon invades Russia, Andrei joins the fight. He serves at the Battle of Borodino, where the Russian army somehow withstands the mighty French.w7…but Andrei is seriously wounded. w8Natasha takes care of him, and he forgives her. Pierre is taken prisoner by the French until the Russian winter finally destroys Napoleon’s army.w9 When Pierre and Natasha see each other again, they realize they are in love!

Cute, no? Cozy  Classics have more cozy classics:

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Cozy Classics plan to publish Anna Karenina, too. Perhaps, tiny toots could learn yet another word or two — choo-choo train.


Tempest In The Fandom

World-Fantasy-Award-Lovecraft-JPGThis is “Howard,” a bronze bust of H.P. Lovecraft by Gahan Wilson. Since 1975, this funny and slightly grotesque statue, equally lacking both pathos and irony was a trophy of the World Fantasy Award.

On November 8 of this year, at the World Fantasy Award ceremony, David Hartwell announced that this traditional — and controversial — award trophy will be retired and replaced by a different award trophy of yet unknown design. How come?

In 2011, that year best novel winner Nnedi Okorafor was stunned to discover that  Lovecraft  was also the author of the following  poem:

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger. 

               – H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of N*ggers (1912)

okoraforDismayed, Okorafor (the author is of Nigerian descent) wrote of her confusion — “a statuette of this racist man’s head is one of my greatest honours as a writer”.

She also asked China Miéville about his response to the award, and he said that he turned the statuette around:

“I have turned it to face the wall. […] I can look at it and remember the honour, and above all I am writing behind Lovecraft’s back.”

Nalo Hopkinson (a Jamaican speculative fiction writer and editor) came into the comments on the essay to give her solution:

“Like you and China, I was happy to accept the award itself. As to what I’ve done with the bust? I’ve turned Lovecraft’s face outwards. I want him to see me Breathing While Black.”

Daniel José Older has launched a petition calling for the organizers of the prize to make the late African-American science fiction writer Octavia Butler the inspiration for the statue rather than Lovecraft.


Earlier this summer, the old guard of fantasy got very uncomfortable over a petition I started asking for the World Fantasy Award to remove the bust of HP Lovecraft as its statuette and replace it with Octavia Butler. Lovecraft was an uneven craftsman at best – his stories clunk along, overburdened with adjectives and stale characters. It’s his world-building and imagination that helped solidify his legacy, but even that is tainted by a failure of craft and humanity. He detailed his rabid, paranoid racism in many letters, and it permeates his mythos. Lovecraft peopled his fiction with hordes of swarthy, child-killing and abjectly stupid black and brown people, while women are almost non-existent.”

Many were delighted with the “Howard’s” dishonorable retirement. But not everyone.

S. T. (Sunand Tryambak) Joshi, an Indian American literary critic, stjoshinovelist, and a leading figure in the study of H. P. Lovecraft and other authors of weird and fantastic fiction, clearly wasn’t happy about this development.

“It has come to my attention that the World Fantasy Convention has decided to replace the bust of H. P. Lovecraft that constitutes the World Fantasy Award with some other figure. Evidently this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a “vicious racist” like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award. (Let it pass that analogous accusations could be made about Bram Stoker and John W. Campbell, Jr., who also have awards named after them. These figures do not seem to elicit the outrage of the SJWs.)

Joshi writes, “If Nnedi Okorafor and China Miéville are so offended at owning the WFA, they should simply return it and be done with the matter.”

When it came to his attention that after a prolonged discussion of the matter, WFC decided not to award Lovecraft’s bust any longer,  Joshi returned his two World Fantasy Awards to the co-chairman of the WFC board, David G. Hartwell, and written a letter to this effect, the full text of which he posted on his blog.


Cryptomnesia 201. Plagiarism 101


Cryptomnesia is a disorder (see my previous post Cryptomnesia 101.)  It is characterized by forgetting about the real source of information, difficulty discerning whether the event is a reality or a figment of the imagination. Among the main symptoms of this disorder are the following:

  • difficulty in differentiating between dream and reality, hallucinations;
  • confusing own thoughts and beliefs with those the once read or heard;
  • confusing events of own life with lives of other people, either real or fictional (books,movies).

    Roswita Szyszka. Confusion.

    British scientists M. Howe and M. Debish investigated the causes of false memories and concluded that the occurrence of sensations similar to déjà vu, the most frequently found in people with the following features:

    • high IQ;
    • emotionality, sensitivity,
    • competence in a particular area of expertise;
    • communicative, friendly  personality;
    • good memory;
    • creative thinking.mod1

    Cryptomnesia can give rise to unintended plagiarism, especially when logical memories are no longer recognized as memories, but are experienced as newly created ideas. In the field of literature, the characteristics of this kind of plagiarism are, according to Jung, repetition of the general trend of a story, including some unimportant details, but in phrases which differ from the original ones.

    Unintended verbatim plagiarism is a rare occurrence. It could be caused by cryptomnesia in persons with an excellent verbal rote memory. Two possible instances are described in detail. Cryptomnesia may have been responsible in one case, but careless filing of a copied poem is the more likely explanation in the other. (Cryptomnesia and Plagiarism, F. KRÄUPL TAYLOR, 

    Cryptomnesia may  explain how the apparent plagiarism of such people as Helen Keller or George Harrison of the Beatles might actually be cases of hidden memory.

    In the 1970s, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was at the center of a heavily publicized copyright infringement suit, due to its similarity to the Ronnie Mack song “He’s So Fine“, a 1963 hit for the New York girl group the Chiffons. In 1976, Harrison was found to have subconsciously plagiarized the earlier tune.

    Helen Keller’s  The Frost King is a dead ringer of Margaret Canby’s  The Frost Fairies.

    Both may simply be cases of not having a conscious memory of their experiences of the works in question, thus cryptomnesia.

    howIn 2006, Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard University student, seemed to have scored about as big as a college sophomore possibly could. Not only was her novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life, being published by Little, Brown, but she had also secured a movie deal for an adaptation of the book. But the Harvard Crimson reported after its release that several passages bore suspicious similarities to parts of the young adult novels “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings” by Megan McCafferty.

    Viswanathan released a statement citing her “photographic memory” as the problem, saying that “any phrasing similarities between (McCafferty’s) works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious.”  Yet another case of cryptomnesia?

    nitАllegedly, Friedrich Nietzschе was a cryptomnesiac.  As a result of traumatic brain injury, philosopher periodically suffered from depression and even psychotic episodes.   The Thinker often confused reality with fantasy and often appropriated other peoples words and ideas.  Many of his philosophical concepts were later interpreted as plagiarism. Go and figure.



    The Dumas’ Musketeers got their start when Dumas read the first volume of the Memoirs of Monsieur D’Artagnan written by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras.  It is also said that he had never read past the first volume. Dumas almost duplicated the beginning/opening of the work. He also borrowed a few details from the Memoires M. le Comte de Rochefort, notably the branding of M’Lady. Alexander Dumas, was repeatedly accuses of plagiarism. He didn’t contesty this claim, what he did not argue, looking at the problem philosophically: “Everything in this world is a rip-off. Even the Lord God created Adam in His own image and likeness.

    When Shakespeare was accused of stealing someone else’s text, he reportedly said: “The text was as a girl, which I found in the mud and introduced into high society.”

    Neither Shakespeare nor Dumas were cryptomaniacs…

    I’m thinking of writing a novel. It’ll be a historical fiction focusing on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg, Russia, Raskolnikov — that’ll be his name — is tormented by his own nihilism, and the struggle between good and evil. Believing that he is above the law, and convinced that humanitarian ends justify vile means, he brutally murders an old woman — a pawnbroker whom he regards as “stupid, ailing, greedy…good for nothing.” Overwhelmed afterwards by feelings of guilt and terror, Raskolnikov confesses to the crime and goes to prison. There he realizes that happiness and redemption can only be achieved through suffering. Something to this effect.

Here I go:

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge…

Igor Ivanov. Raskolnikov

What? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT? By Fyodor Dostoevsky? Translated by Constance Garnett?  Plagiarism? Oh, no! I must be a cryptomaniac.

Let me try again. Something entirely different. How’s this for the first line: It was a dark and stormy night…? Ah, well…

Good Books — Bad Reviews

Paul Thek (1933–1988), The Personal Effects of the Pied Piper

Paul Thek (1933–1988), The Personal Effects of the Pied Piper

Writers Hate Writers is more amusing a subject than this one, still it’s a enlightening to remember that books that nowadays are considered classics haven’t been recognized as literary gems immediately upon publishing.

“A master of the concentrated short story, Hemingway is less sure in his grasp of the form of the elaborated novel. The shape of For Whom the Bell Tolls is sometimes slack and sometimes bulging. It is certainly quite a little too long.” The New Republic

“But the most conspicuous lack, in comparison with the classics of the fearsome-future genre, is the inability to imagine a language to match the changed face of common life. No newspeak. And nothing like the linguistic tour de force of A Clockwork Orange – the brutal melting-down of current English and Slavic words that in itself tells the story of the dread new breed.

The writing of The Handmaid’s Tale is undistinguished in a double sense, ordinary if not glaringly so, but also indistinguishable from what one supposes would be Margaret Atwood’s normal way of expressing herself in the circumstances. This is a serious defect, unpardonable maybe for the genre: a future that has no language invented for it lacks a personality. That must be why, collectively, it is powerless to scare.” The New York Times

“The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. Holden Caulfield, the main character who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him. …

In the course of 277 pages, the reader wearies of [his] explicitness, repetition and adolescence, exactly as one would weary of Holden himself. And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was.” The New Republic

“The short, flat sentences of which the novel is composed convey shock and despair better than an array of facts or effusive mourning. Still, deliberate simplicity is as hazardous as the grand style, and Vonnegut occasionally skids into fatuousness…” The New Yorker

“I happen to feel that the book would have been infinitely better had it been edited down to, say, 500 pages — but there speaks the harassed daily reviewer an [sic] well as the would-be judicious critic. Very nearly every reader will agree, no doubt, that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject-matter.” The New York Times

“It is not so much a novel as a long affectionate lark inspired by the so-called “beat” generation, and an example of the degree to which some of the most original work being done in this country has come to depend upon the bizarre and the offbeat for its creative stimulus.” The New York Times

“Mr. Huxley has the jitters. Looking back over his career one can see that he has always had them, in varying degrees… [he] rushes headlong into the great pamphleteering movement. [Brave New World] is a lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.” NYHTBR

“Miss Lee’s problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn’t consistently solved it.” The Saturday Review

“Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…

This story is obviously unimportant and, though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, This Side of Paradise. What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story — that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people.” The Chicago Tribune

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Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive…

Past the artistic danger line of madness is another even more fatal. It is where the particular mania is a perversion like Humbert’s. To describe such a perversion with the pervert’s enthusiasm without being disgusting is impossible. If Mr. Nabokov tried to do so he failed.” The New York Times

One doesn’t have to agree or disagree with the expressed opinions of venerable literary critics — or anyone’s opinion for that matter… That is to say, I hold my own about all of the books above and, I confess, I’m not 100% disdainful of some of the criticism… of some of the critics… of some of the books above.

Matter of note: several of the book weren’t merely negatively received by literary critics — for a period of time shortly after their publication the following books were altogether or nearly banned : Lolita (in France, Argentina and New Zealand),  The Catcher in the Rye (in Australia, USA), Brave New World (in some states of the USA, in Ireland and a number of other European countries),  Slaughterhouse-Five (many people in the US were in favor of banning the book, accusing its author in vulgarity, violence, profanity, immorality and lack of patriotism. In some European countries, the book was banned for its anti-militaristic sentiment. More on this in Kurt Vonnegut, Extraordinarily Insulted.)

Bad books — good reviews… well, that should be a different story altogether.

“I smell blood and an era of prominent madmen.” ― W.H. Auden

On this day, September 29th, in 1973,  W.H. Auden has diedWystan Hugh Auden was an Anglo-American poet and one of the leading literary figures of the 20th century, best known for The Age of Anxiety  which won him the Pulitzer Prize.

W. H. Auden

Born: February 21, 1907, York, England Died: September 28, 1973, Vienna, Austria

In 1935, Auden married Erika Mann, the daughter of the German novelist Thomas Mann. It was a marriage of convenience to enable her to gain British citizenship and escape Nazi Germany – Auden was himself homosexual.

Auden’s political sympathies inspired him to go to Spain in 1937 to observe the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Auden and Isherwood emigrated to the United States. This was a controversial move, regarded by some as a flight from danger on the eve of war in Europe. In New York, Auden met poet Chester Kallman who would be his companion for the rest of his life. Auden taught at a number of American universities and, in 1946, took US citizenship.

The poet as a young man… WH Auden in London in January 1938, 18 months before the recently unearthed diary was started. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

The poet as a young man… WH Auden in London in January 1938, 18 months before the recently unearthed diary was started. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

He continued to publish poetry including his Pulitzer Prize winning ‘The Age of Anxiety’ (1947)  He collaborated with Kallman on the libretto for Stravinsky’s opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’ (1951). From 1956 to 1961 he was professor of poetry at Oxford University.

Such a beautiful evening and in an hour, they say, England will be at war.” (WH Auden,  September 1, 1939. An unpublished diary that sheds light on the composition of one of his most famous poems.)

The journal was one of just three kept by the British poet. It had been in private hands since Auden’s death in 1973, but was recently unearthed and sold earlier this month at Christie’s in London to the British Library.Christie’s called it “the most substantial and significant Auden manuscript to have been offered at auction“, and said it offered “an incomparable insight into the poet’s activities and reflections at the turning point in his life”.

War declared this morning… a page from the journal. Photograph: Christie's/PA

War declared this morning… a page from the journal. Photograph: Christie’s/PA

The journal records Auden’s thoughts on topics from women (“My hatred of women is such that if I am not afraid of them … I am cruel“) to politics. “The problem for a democracy is how to get rid of the pitiful vanities of partisan talk and voting and the corruption of party machines without silencing opposition criticism,” he muses.

That unmistakable voice: grey, shambling and covered in ash, Auden the man found it was the effect of his words that mattered. Photo: Jerry Cooke/Corbis

That unmistakable voice: grey, shambling and covered in ash, Auden the man found it was the effect of his words that mattered.
Photo: Jerry Cooke/Corbis

Among Auden’s highly regarded skills was the ability to think in terms of both symbols and reality at the same time, so that intellectual ideas were transformed. He rooted ideas through creatures of his imagining for whom the reader could often feel affection while appreciating the stern and cold outline of the ideas themselves.

He nearly always used language that was interesting in texture as well as brilliant verbally. He employed a great variety of intricate and extremely difficult technical forms. Throughout his career he often wrote pure lyrics of grave beauty, such as “Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love” and “Look Stranger.”

In 1972, with his health declining, Auden left America. He moved to live in Oxford, in a cottage belonging to his old college, Christ Church. In the late 1950s, Auden had bought a house in Austria, where he spent six months of every year. He died in Austria on 29 September 1973.

The multivolume Complete Works of W. H. Auden was published in 1989. Auden is now considered one of the greatest poets of the English language.
свеча“Let me see what I wrote so I know what I think”

― W.H. Auden

“I will love you forever” swears the poet. I find this easy to swear too. “I will love you at 4:15 pm next Tuesday” – Is that still as easy?”
― W.H. Auden

“All we are not stares back at what we are.”
― W.H. Auden

“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.”
― W.H. AudenCollected Poems

“We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”
― W.H. Auden

What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.”
― W.H. AudenThe Dyer’s Hand

“Let all your thinks be thanks.”
― W.H. Auden

“There is a great deal of difference in believing something still, and believing it again.”
― W.H. Auden

Desire, even in its wildest tantrums, can neither persuade me it is love nor stop me from wishing it were.”
― W.H. Auden

“A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us. ”
― W.H. Auden

“Thank God for books as an alternative to conversation.”
― W.H. Auden

будъ свечей“Those who will not reason, perish in the act. Those who will not act, perish for that reason.”
― W.H. Auden

“Drama is based on the Mistake.”
― W.H. AudenThe Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume III, 1949-1955

“We are all here on earth to help others: what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know.”
― W.H. Auden

“Words have no word for words that are not true.
― W.H. Auden

“Music is the best means we have of digesting time.”
― W.H. Auden

“The surest sign that a man has a genuine taste of his own is that he is uncertain of it.”
― W.H. AudenThe Dyer’s Hand

Leo Tolstoy At War And Piece With Himself

t99A GIANT AND PYGMIES: LEO TOLSTOY AND CONTEMPORARY WRITERS, says the caption under this old caricature by unknown artist. Only a few minutes ago Google stopped to remind me of Leo Tolstoy’s 186 birthday: the author of War and Piece and Anna Karenina was born September 9,1828.


Leo Tolstoy enjoyed what would ordinarily be considered an extremely successful and comfortable life. By the end of it, however, he was plagued by a feeling that each individual act he undertook, and the totality of his life, were completely devoid of meaning. His life felt like a “stupid, mean trick played on me by somebody.”

Meaninglessness of life and a kind of intellectual crisis he found himself at the dawn of his life, and how he struggled with these issues and — so he thought — recovered from it is at the heart of his short and powerful essay A Confession.

Art, too, lost its lure and significance for the writer. Art is insignificant because life is, for art is a reflection of life in one form or another. At the very best, Tolstoy notes, art provides empirical description of human life and even its content, but it is unable to explain what, in anything, is the meaning of life.


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Only one of the photographs in the gallery above is slightly photoshopped. Which one?

In A Confession, Tolstoy confides that after long observation, he came to believe that faith alone could provide meaning to human life. The great majority of people do not agonize over meaninglessness of their lives, although great many live in extremely dismal circumstances. What these people have in common?

Tolstoy thinks, it is their faith. Faith alone fills human existence with purpose and value. Tolstoy — for most of his life — believed faith is in constant conflict with reason. Still, he came to believe that faith was the ultimate answer to the questions that so wholly consumed him. In the end, he seemed to have embraced it.



Writers Hate Writers


In 1971 Norman Mailer head-butted Gore Vidal just before a recording of the Dick Cavett Show (both were invited guests), because Vidal gave a bad review to “The Prisoner of Love” published earlier in the year. The on-screen exchange is a classic of television invective.

Vidal smartly forgave Mailer in a not so many words:

“Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.”

Martin Amis once described Mailer as “this pampered super-brat.”

Mark Twain hated Jane Austen:

“Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

But then again, Mark Twain held many greats in little regard, including the Great Bard:

“With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare…”

William Faulkner, on the other hand, had this to say about Twain:

“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

Ernest Hemingway, according to Vladimir Nabokov: 

 “As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

Jan Diehm created a curious and entertaining interactive infographic for The Huffington Post, showing which ones of the famous writers had to gird their loins against the barbs and arrows of which other famous writers.

Most of the remarks are gloriously witty, truly worthy of the great talents that put hand to paper. 

Follow the link WAY HARSH. Famous Authors Who Hated Each Other’s Writing (Infographic) to a full screen interactive version.




From Heaven To Hell

Five centuries separates legendary Italian poet Dante (c. 1265–1321) and  celebrated poet and painter William Blake (1757–1827).

BLAKEIn 1826, William Blake was 65 and in poor health. That year he received a commission to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Blake started the project with great enthusiasm — his worldview resonated with Dante’s rejection of materialism and contempt of the way power corrupts humanity and morality.

Fate, however, was unkind to William Blake. He died months later, befallen by gallbladder illness, while the project was far from completion. Blake worked on the project, quite literary, on his dying day and produced 102 drawings. Some paintings were merely sketches while others — fully developed watercolors.


The Divine Comedy drawings were never published. Eventually, in 1918, after many travails and changing hands, the paintings were sold at an auction and ended up scattered across galleries in UK, Australia and the United States.blake

All 102 plates were collected in a fabulous volume William Blake’s Divine Comedy Illustrations.





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Salvador Dalí, illustrated several works of classical literature: Don Quixote in 1946, the essays of Montaigne in 1947, Alice in Wonderland in 1969, and Romeo and Juliet in 1975.

In 1957, Dalí was at the height of his fame. More than a century after William Blake had done the same,  Salvador Dalí began working on a series of 100 paintings based on The Divine Comedy. The project was commissioned by the Italian government.


Dalí agreed to complete the artwork in eight years. Then, according to a plan, it should have been released as limited-edition prints dedicated to the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth.

What was to follow alarmed and amazed the art and literary world: the Italian government pulled out of the project. It reacted to the public outcry — Italians were unhappy that the legacy of their national treasure, Dante Alighieri, had been entrusted to a Spaniard. Defiant, Dalí continued the project on his own. The series was completed in 1964.


Two engravers spent five years hand-carving 3,500 wooden blocks to be used for reproductions of Dalí’s paintings.

The series was never published as an official English edition of the classic book, much to a great disappointment of everyone who expected for a book arrival. The reproductions of the individual paintings can still be purchased online — often for outrageous prices — and found in an obscure out-of-print book released by the Park West Gallery in 1993.

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