15 September 2013

John Willliams: Stoner (1965)

In recent years John Williams's Stoner has attracted a great deal of attention as one of the great 'forgotten' novels and had been re-issued to great acclaim in NYRB Classics and Vintage Classics and called one of the  'Most Underrated Southern Books of All Time' by Oxford American.

Stoner is set in Missouri and covers fifty years in the life of John Stoner, beginning in 1910. Stoner is brought up on a farm and goes to the University of Missouri to study farming. However, he develops a love of literature and goes on to take a Masters and a PhD and teach that subject at the same university, which he doesn't leave until shortly before his death from cancer.

Near the end the drugs Stoner takes for his illness lead to a dream-like state not altogether dissimilar to the states described in which Stoner drifts into marriage with Edith. But marriage to Edith – apart from a short interlude in which she turns into a sex-mad wife while working toward  and succeeding in her own dream as a mother – is more of a nightmare.

Stoner is very much concerned with alienation, half about how a couple living together can be hopelessly estranged from each other, half about how ruthless the world of academe can be. Two world wars come and go, and although one of Stoner's friends dies in the first, the real battles here are at home and at work: the narrator at one stage sees Edith as making a declaration of war with her husband, and Stoner's boss Lomax seems bent on destroying anything that Stoner holds dear, including his extramarital relationship with Katherine.

I feel that some of the praises for this book overrate it a little, although there are many quietly brilliant moments in it.

6 September 2013

Highgate Cemetery #19: Bert Jansch

'BERT
JANSCH
3. 11. 43 – 5. 10. 2011
REST IN PEACE'
 
Obviously, unfinished business.

Highgate Cemetery #18: Patrick Caulfield

The grave of the artist Patrick Caulfield (1936-2005), which is simple but direct, a far cry from the rather stupid 'passed away', 'sleeping', 'gone to Jesus', etc, euphemisms of former times: the man is
 
D
   E
      A
         D
 
So let this message be transparent.

Highgate Cemetery #17: Pat Kavanagh

'PAT KAVANAGH
1940–2008
Literary Agent
 
Wife of
Julian Barnes'

Highgate Cemetery #16: Jeremy Beadle

'JEREMY BEADLE MBE
APR. 12th 1948 – JAN. 30th 2008
WRITER PRESENTER CURATOR OF ODDITIES
Ask My Friends'
 
I really like the books.

Highgate Cemetery #15: Malcolm McLaren

'MM
 
MALCOLM ROBERT ANDREW
McLAREN
 
1946 – 2010
 
'Better a spectacular failure, than a benign success'
 
East map lists Malcolm McLaren as an 'Impresario, rock-artist, clothes designer and boutique owner'. Yes, fine, but I'm sure that for the majority of the people who come here it's mainly about the Sex Pistols: 'God save the queen, the fascist régime', etc. Whatever happened to that wonderful rebellious spirit? Death mask:
 

Highgate Cemetery #14: William Henry Monk

I can't find an image of William Henry Monk's grave online, so I must assume that for the moment this is the only one.  It may well be that that is because this grave is quite a distance from many of the other noted ones, and even then it isn't easy to find. Monk was a hymn writer, and is most remembered for 'Eventide' and 'Abide with Me'.

Highgate Cemetery #13: Edward Truelove

'IN MEMORY OF
EDWARD TRUELOVE
PUBLISHER.
BORN OCTOBER 29TH 1809,
DIED APRIL 21ST 1899,
IN HIS NINETIETH YEAR.
 
REGARDLESS OF OBLOQUY, SUFFERING AND
WORLDLY LOSS, HE BATTLED BRAVELY THROUGHOUT
A LONG AND TROUBLED LIFE TO MAINTAIN THE RIGHT
OF FREE SPEECH AND FREE THOUGHT.'
 
Edward Truelove was a radical publisher who followed Robert Owen and worked for a year at Owen's utopian community, New Harmony, in Indiana. His first bookshop was in the Strand in 1852, followed by another in Holborn. Although he escaped prosecution for blasphemy (for publishing W. E. Adams's Tyrannicide), he spent four months in prison for publishing Owen's son Robert Dale Owen's Moral Physiology, concerning contraception.

Highgate Cemetery #12: Ernestine Rose

'ERNESTINE L. SUSMOND
POTOWSKI ROSE
WOMENS RIGHTS AND ANTI-SLAVERY ADVOCATE,
FREETHINKER
B. JAN 13 1810 D. AUG 4 1892
 
WILLIAM ELLA ROSE
SILVERSMITH, REFORMER, FREETHINKER
B. 1813 D. JAN 31 1882'

Ernestine Rose (née Polowski) was born in Russian Poland and was sixteen when her mother died and her father married her to a friend of his, although she rebelled, journeyed to the civil court and successfully had the marriage annulled. When she returned home her father had married a girl the same age as her. She left home and travelled to several countries before finding support for her feminist and atheist ideas in England with Robert Owen, who encouraged her to lecture.

Her marriage to William Ella Rose was by a civil magistrate and they emigrated to the US in 1836, where they became American citizens, Ernestine continuing to lecture and meeting opposition because of her atheism. She won the support of, among other people, Susan B. Anthony. The Roses returned to England in 1869.

Ernestine Rose's work is collected in Mistress of Herself: Speeches and Letters of Ernestine Rose, Early Women's Rights Leader (2008), edited by Paula Doress-Worters.

Highgate Cemetery #11: Richard Titmuss

 
'IN MEMORY OF
RICHARD TITMUSS
1907– 1973
Socialist and humanitarian thinker
AND
KAY TITMUSS
1901 – 1987
Committed wife and welfare worker'

Highgate Cemetery #10: Tom Wakefield

'TOM
WAKEFIELD
WRITER EDUCATOR
MOTHER
1935 – 1996'
 
Oddly, I can find very little online about Tom Wakefield, who is perhaps best known for his openly gay novel Mates (1983). Nevertheless, I give two links below, one from the West Midlands Literary Heritage web site, another from a blogger who personally knew him.
 
On the headstone is a cartoon portrait of Wakefield by David Shelton, who I can only imagine must be the same person who published and illustrated the (very well received) children's novel A Boy and a Bear in a Boat last year.
 
CORRIGENDUM: A comment below from Dave Shelton clarifies that he didn't do the portrait, and he suggests that it was Dave Shenton: that seems to fit. I must have mis-read the signature.
 
ADDENDUM 1: In a comment below, Sheila asks why is Tom Wakefield called a mother on his gravestone. That's a question I too would like the answer to. Any takers?
 
ADDENDUM 2: Be sure to read the very interesting comment by Hugh Barney Miller, JP: he actually knew Tom Wakefield, and makes a comment on the 'Mother' note on his headstone.
 
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
West Midlands Literary Heritage: Tom Wakefield
Get Mummy's Purse: Tom Wakefield

Highgate Cemetery #9: Karl Marx and comrades


'JENNY VON WESTPHALEN.
THE BELOVED WIFE OF
KARL MARX.
BORN 12TH FEBRUARY 1814.
DIED [2]ND DECEMBER 1881.

AND KARL MARX.
BORN MAY 5TH 1818, DIED MARCH 14TH 1883.

AND HARRY LONGUET.
THEIR GRANDSON
BORN JULY 4TH 1878, DIED MARCH 20TH 1883.

AND HELENA DEMUTH.
BORN JANUARY 1ST 1823. DIED NOVEMBER 1890

AND ELEANOR MARX, DAUGHTER OF KARL MARX
BORN JANUARY 16TH 1856. DIED MARCH 31ST 1898.'
 
Helena Demuth was the family housekeeper and almost certainly had a child by Marx whom Engels (diplomatically) claimed to be his own.

A similar image to this is used on the front page of the new leaflet 'East map' of Highgate Cemetery. Karl Marx's grave is the most popular in the cemetery: in many ways the great man is very much alive.
 
In a far more obscure part of the cemetery is the site where Marx's grave originally lay. The stone reads:

'THEIR REMAINS WERE
REMOVED AND RE-INTERRED
ON 23rd NOVEMBER 1954 AT
THE PLACE NEARBY WHERE
A MONUMENT WAS ERECTED
ON 14th MARCH 1956'
 
Near Marx's grave are those of several people who shared his views of the capitalist world:
 
'CLAUDIA VERA JONES


BORN TRINIDAD 1915.
DIED LONDON 25.12.1964.
 
VALIANT FIGHTER AGAINST RACISM AND
IMPERIALISM WHO DEDICATED HER LIFE
TO THE PROGRESS OF SOCIALISM AND THE
LIBERATION OF HER OWN BLACK PEOPLE.'

 
 'CHRIS HARMAN
 
Revolutionary, Thinker, Activist
1942–2009
 
And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone's heart must be torn to shreds.
That you'll go down if you don't stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.'
 
'PAUL FOOT
 
1937 – 2004


Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few.'
 
The above battle cry is of course the final verse of Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'The Mask of Anarchy', written in response to the Peterloo massacre in Manchester, 1819, in which drunken cavalry slaughtered 15 reformers and injured hundreds more.

 
'DR YUSEF
MOHAMED DADOO
1909–1983
 
CHAIRMAN OF THE
SOUTH AFRICAN COMMUNIST PARTY
 
HE DEDICATED HIS LIFE TO THE CAUSE
OF NATIONAL LIBERATION, SOCIALISM
AND WORLD PEACE.'
 
'Eric Hobsbawm
 
Historian
 
1917  – 2012'
 
Some referred to Eric Hobsbawm as 'Neil Kinnock's favourite Marxist', and although Hobsbawm supported Kinnock's reforms of the Labour Party he thought differently about Tony Blair: 'Thatcher in trousers'.

Highgate Cemetery #8: Max Wall

'MAX WALL
1908–1990

I believe that since My life began
the most I've had is just a Talent to
Amuse'

Max Wall was born Maxwell George Lorimer and was the son of the comedy actor Jack Lorimer. His career began in pantomime and he is noted for his performances as 'Professor Wallofski', a character who an influence on John Cleese in his 'Ministry of Silly Walks' sketch. After going through a low period for some years, interest in Wall revived and he played in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (1979) and Krapp's Last Tape (1984), Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, and even recorded a version of Ian Dury's 'England's Glory'. He died after falling and fracturing his skull at Simpson's-in-the-Strand restaurant, London.

5 September 2013

Highgate Cemetery #7: Michael and Sasha Young

'MICHAEL YOUNG

'Social Visionary
and Innovator
1915–2002

'Never the spirit was born
The spirit shall cease to be never
Never was time it was not
End and beginning are dreams
Birthless and deathless and changeless
Remaineth the spirit forever
Death hath not touched it at all
Dead though the house of it seems.'

The above words, on immortality of the soul, are from The Bhagavad Gita.

Sociologist Young is perhaps most noted for his books Family and Kinship in East London (1957) and Family and Class in a London Suburb (1960) (both with Peter Willmott), and The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958).
 
In 1960 he married Sasha Moorsum.
 
'SASHA YOUNG 1931–1993
 
'Ah the
company of the birds
I loved and cherished on earth
Now freed of flesh we fly
Together a flock of beating wings
I am light as feathery
As gone from gravity we soar
In endless circles'

The writer, artist and sculptor Sasha Young wrote poetry and published two novels – A Lavender Trip (1976) and In the Shadow of the Paradise Tree (1983) – the second of which was inspired by a stay in Nigeria.

Highgate Cemetery #6: Henry Crabbe Robinson

'BENEATH THIS STONE
IS INTERRED THE BODY OF
HENRY CRABBE ROBINSON
BORN MAY 15, 1775, DIED FEBRUARY [?], 1867
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
FRIEND AND ASSOCIATE OF
GOETHE AND WORDSWORTH, WIELAND
AND COLERIDGE, FLAXMAN AND BLAKE,
CLARKSON AND CHARLES LAMB,
HONOURED AND LOVED THE GREAT
AND NOBLE IN THEIR THOUGHTS
AND CHARACTERS.
HIS WARMTH OF HEART AND
GENIAL SYMPATHY EMBRACED ALL
WHOM HE COULD SERVE,
ALL IN WHOM HE FOUND A RESPONSE
TO HIS OWN HEALTHY TASTES.
HIS RELIGION CORRESPONDED TO HIS LIFE,
SEATED IN THE HEART
IT FOUND EXPRESSION IN THE TRUEST
CHRISTIAN BENEVOLENCE.'

4 September 2013

Highgate Cemetery #5: George Eliot

George Eliot's prominent obelisk.
 
'OF THOSE IMMORTAL DEAD WHO LIVE AGAIN
IN MINDS MADE BETTER BY THEIR PRESENCE
 
HERE LIES THE BODY
OF
'GEORGE ELIOT',
MARY ANN CROSS.
Born 22. November 1819
Died 22. December 1880'

Highgate Cemetery #4: James Caird

Sir James Caird (1816–1892) was an agriculturalist and writer who dropped out of university to learn farming. His pamphlet High Farming under Liberal Covenants, the Best Substitute for Protection (1849) was against the corn laws and a highly influential work that went into eight editions. Peel commissioned him to write a report on the situation in Ireland, and Caird's The Plantation System, or, The West of Ireland as a Field for Investment (1850) was another influential work and encouraged land reform in Ireland. He also toured North America widely and wrote on prairie farming.

Highgate Cemetery #3: Leslie Stephen

This is a somewhat forlorn grave apparently of someone long forgotten. And yet here lie the parents and brother of perhaps England's greatest twentieth-century writer.
 
'JULIA PRINSEP STEPHEN
7th FEBRUARY 1846
5th MAY 1895
SIR LESLIE STEPHEN
28th NOVEMBER 1832
22nd FEBRUARY 1904
ALSO
JULIAN THOBY STEPHEN
8th SEPTEMBER 1880
20th NOVEMBER 1906'
 
Leslie Stephen is noted for his work on the Dictionary of National Biography. Julia Prinsep was his second wife. And yet the Highgate Cemetery East map doesn't mention that here are Virginia Woolf's mother and father.

Highgate Cemetery #2: Douglas Adams

'Douglas Adams
Writer
1952–2001'

I never understood what it was about Douglas Adams, why people like his work so much. Is it something to do with the television programmes: 'it must be good if it's on TV'? I'll probably never know. Another thing I don't understand is why his grave is so ordinary, as I'd have expected something, well, space-age. And why the pens? I must have missed something as they seem so, er, last century.

I think part of what I didn't like about Douglas Adams is that – for me at least of course – he's trying too hard to be funny, to be original, to be liked, which for me is doomed to failure.

Arthur Dent? Popular guy, Adams.

Highgate Cemetery #1: Anthony Shaffer

'ANTHONY
SHAFFER
Grand Artificer of Mysteries
 
Beloved Son, Husband, Father
and Brother
1926–2001'
 
And I love the other side of the headstone, as if it's stamping a trademark on it, with the distinctive mention of his most famous play: Sleuth (1970).

The Inevitable in Paddington: Paddington Bear

It's not all that easy to get a shot of the bear with kids climbing over it.

'Please look
after this
BEAR THANK YOU'
 
'WANTED
ON VOYAGE'

'Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington
on a railway platform.
In fact, that was how he came to have
such an unusual name for a bear,
for Paddington was the name of the station.
 
From "A Bear Called Paddington" by Michael Bond
 
So began Paddington Bear's long association with this station'
 
Well, he seems a lot more fun to me than Platform 9¾ at King's Cross.

Sustrans' Portrait Bench, Paddington

Sustrans' Portrait Bench is an ongoing project, the creation of a series of nationwide sculptures that when completed will total 230 figures. The three figures here are in Paddington about a half mile from the station and in a grassy area at the side of St Mary's church. Below I quote from a little circular plaque bolted to the side of a bench:
 
'Alan Turing OBE, FRS 1912–1954
Father of computer science,
WWII code-breaker who led cryptanalysis
of the Enigma Machine'
 
'Mary Seacole 1805–1881
Nursed wounded soldiers
on the battlefield during the Crimean War'

'Michael Bond OBE
Author and creator of the beloved
children's character
Paddington Bear'
 

The Oceanides, aka The Naked Ladies, Twickenham

An amazing sight greets any unsuspecting member of the public walking through the riverside area of York House Gardens, Twickenham. These are the Oceanides, commonly known as the Naked Ladies, in Italian Carrara marble. The interesting thing here is that these are not static nudes, but very active ones obviously created out of a love of the female body: they are in fact very sensual.
 
An interpretation plaque at the side states that these have come from the Roman school of Orazio Andreoni, dating from the turn of the 19th century. It claims that the name of the sculptor is unknown, although the Victorian Web seems to have found another (more recent, presumably) source of information, and confidently states that they were made by Oscar Spalmach (1864–1917) in Andreoni's studio.
 
Whitaker Wright brought them to England for his Surrey property, although they didn't stay there very long: Wright was found guilty of fraud and killed himself in 1904, and the last private owner of York House – Sir Ratan Tata – bought the statues in 1909. After he died nine years later his wife sold the house to Twickenham Urban District Council. The statues weren't included in the sale but remained in place, although neglect and vandalism led to them falling into a sorry state by the late 1980s. But Elizabeth Bell-Wright encouraged local societies to fight to save the statues, which received further restoration in 2007. And here, in all their glory, are more detailed shots of the Naked Ladies: