Saturday, November 23, 2019

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Aubade (November)

Lying awake before dawn, hearing the faint scratching of rain on the gutters, waiting for the first pale light of a winter morning to stretch across the floorboards, he feels the last traces of his dreams dissolve. A car rolls by on the wet street and he hears the damp thud of newspapers being deposited, one after another, into the driveways of the houses along the block. The sparrows have nothing to say.

Saturday, November 16, 2019


If I lived in Japan maybe I'd climb Mt. Fuji, but since I don't I settle for Turkey Mountain, a bump of gneiss that soars to an elevation of all of 831 feet. I like to go up a few times a year, and since the trails can be tricky once there's snow on the ground I suspect today was it for the year. It was a beautiful clear November day, warm enough that I could dispense with my coat for the brief but fairly steep climb.

From the top you can see time. The Manhattan skyline, some forty miles away, is clearly distinguishable if you look south, a nearby reservoir and the Hudson River are closer at hand to the southwest, but the surrounding woods, from this perspective, probably appear more or less as they have for hundreds, even thousands of years, and the stone beneath my feet is roughly a billion years old. It feels pretty solid and I suspect it'll be around for a while to come.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A Social Call

Joseph Conrad:
Razumov had been admitted twice to that suite of several small dark rooms on the top floor: dusty window-panes, litter of all sorts of sweepings all over the place, half-full glasses of tea forgotten on every table, the two Laspara daughters prowling about enigmatically silent, sleepy-eyed, corsetless, and generally, in their want of shape and the disorder of their rumpled attire, resembling old dolls; the great but obscure Julius, his feet twisted round his three-legged stool, always ready to receive the visitors, the pen instantly dropped, the body screwed round with a striking display of the lofty brow and of the great austere beard. When he got down from his stool it was as though he had descended from the heights of Olympus. He was dwarfed by his daughters, by the furniture, by any caller of ordinary stature. But he very seldom left it, and still more rarely was seen walking in broad daylight.

Under Western Eyes
Edward Gorey created covers for several Anchor Press editions of Joseph Conrad's books, including Chance, Victory, and The Secret Sharer, but as far as I can tell he never did this novel, which is shown here in a design by Diana Klemin, Anchor's art director, which was issued in 1963 as part of a serious of uniform editions with introductions by Morton Dauwen Zabel. The passage above, with its jumble of forlorn objects and wraith-like women, seems tailor-made for him. Laspara and his daughters play no great role in the plot of the novel, but Conrad seems to have enjoyed describing them.

Klemin chose two photographs corresponding to the two cities in which the novel is set. One shows the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the other includes, at right, the tiny Île Rousseau in Geneva, where Razumov goes for a bit of privacy when he wants to do some writing.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Great Circle of the Catalogue (George Gissing)

Marian Yule, the daughter and amanuensis of a London literary critic, contemplates her fate in the famous reading room of the British Museum:
Oh, to go forth and labour with one's hands, to do any poorest, commonest work of which the world had truly need! It was ignoble to sit here and support the paltry pretence of intellectual dignity. A few days ago her startled eye had caught an advertisement in the newspaper, headed ‘Literary Machine’; had it then been invented at last, some automaton to supply the place of such poor creatures as herself to turn out books and articles? Alas! the machine was only one for holding volumes conveniently, that the work of literary manufacture might be physically lightened. But surely before long some Edison would make the true automaton; the problem must be comparatively such a simple one. Only to throw in a given number of old books, and have them reduced, blended, modernised into a single one for to-day’s consumption.

The fog grew thicker; she looked up at the windows beneath the dome and saw that they were a dusky yellow. Then her eye discerned an official walking along the upper gallery, and in pursuance of her grotesque humour, her mocking misery, she likened him to a black, lost soul, doomed to wander in an eternity of vain research along endless shelves. Or again, the readers who sat here at these radiating lines of desks, what were they but hapless flies caught in a huge web, its nucleus the great circle of the Catalogue? Darker, darker. From the towering wall of volumes seemed to emanate visible motes, intensifying the obscurity; in a moment the book-lined circumference of the room would be but a featureless prison-limit.

New Grub Street