Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Year of the Moat

As the year of the MPs' expenses draws to a close, I find the following in that seventeenth-century political trimmer, George Savile, Marquis of Halifax: "To the question, what shall we do to be saved in this world? there is no answer but this, Look to your Moat." (A Rough Draft of a New Model at Sea, with a nod, I think, to, er, the New Model Parliament)

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Opium Eater

Reviewed Rob Morrison's admirable new biography of Thomas De Quincey, the English Opium Eater. Hard to believe that it is nearly thirty years since Grevel Lindop's equally good treatment of the same life. Bringing the melancholy thought that perhaps in twenty years someone will write a biography of John Clare that makes mine obsolete. Made to think about this because Morrison slightly underplayed the occasion when DeQ met the Northamptonshire poet: he could have done more with Clare's brilliant observations of the opium eater's character. Clare still haunts me, as I'm sure DeQ does Lindop. The psychology of the biographer's relationship to his subject: a fascinating subject in itself.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Newsnight Review

Newsnight Review discussion of climate change and the arts is available for a few more days on this link. We discussed apocalyptic movies (2012 and The Road), the eARTh exhibition at the Royal Academy, and the writing of wild nature, focusing on Sara Wheeler's book about visiting the Arctic. I thought - though didn't have time to say so on air - that the movie of The Road was magnificent (though not really about climate change, more about family and saying goodbye). It was actually better than the book: Cormac McCarthy's prose can sometimes be overblown ("the ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be" - hm). Often the way that the best films are made from the second-best books.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Wordsworth's River

A few weeks ago I gave the Jonathan Wordsworth Memorial Lecture at the Royal Institution in London (where Coleridge lectured on Shakespeare!), for the Wordsworth Trust. It was called 'The Poet and the River' -- I hope a podcast version will be online soon -- and was about how Wordsworth, Coleridge and more recently Ted Hughes wrote much of their best poetry under the influence of rivers. One section was about Wordsworth's childhood memories of his home by the river Derwent in Cockermouth. It is with the music of that river that the first (1799) Prelude began. Little did I know that a few weeks later, the Derwent would be in Wordsworth's house.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Nabokov Review

My review of Vladimir Nabokov's much hyped novel fragment The Original of Laura was published in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. It was one of the first two reviews to appear, the other being by Martin Amis in the previous day's Guardian. I find it very interesting that Amis and I are both troubled by the same thought: that the recurrence of certain motifs raises the fear that what we might call The Lolita Defence -- the argument that the paedophile tendency belongs only to the brilliant but deranged narrator, the diabolically lovable Humbert Humbert, and not to his creator -- is beginning to look a little shaky.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

A Poem for November 11th

We tend to think of the First World War poets on Remembrance Day. But there were some pretty good Second World War poets, too, the best of them being Keith Douglas (killed, aged 24, shortly after D-Day) and Sidney Keyes (killed in action in Tunisia, aged 20). Keyes is the less well-known of the two. Here is his magnificent elegy in memory of William Wordsworth:

No room for mourning: he's gone out
Into the noisy glen, or stands between the stones
Of the broken ridge, or you'll hear his shout
Rolling among the screes, he being a boy again.
He'll never fail nor die
And if they laid his bones
In the granite vaults or iron sarcophagi
Of fame, he'd rise at the first summer rain
And stride across the hills to seek
His rest among the bony lands and clouds.
He was a stormy day, a wet peak
Spearing the sky; and look, about its base
Words flower like crocuses in the gaunt woods,
Blank though the dalehead and the hanging face.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

New Blog

When the RSC Shakespeare Complete Works was published in 2007, I launched an editor's blog. This is periodically updated as new individual volumes appear in the series, and when news, corrections and matters of Shakespearean editorial interest emerge. But, having enjoyed the way that the blogging process brings one into touch with readers, I am going to blog here, probably with very variable frequency and length, on other literary matters. I'll be reporting on work in progress, seeking advice and opinion, and providing links to reviews and articles that appear elsewhere - some by me, some by others. The latter beginning with this excellently provocative piece about the value of the humanities in the latest Harper's Magazine.