Monday, March 31, 2014

Virginia Woolf / A Knife

Émile Savitry
Anouk Aimée and her cat Tulip Flower, 1947
[via Le Journal De La Photographie]
Anouk Aimée and her cat Tulip Flower, 1947
Photo by Emile Savitry
by Virginia Woolf

"For the philosopher is right who says that nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy…"

— Virginia Woolf, Orlando

The 100 best novels / No 28 / New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)

The 100 best novels: No 28 – New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)

George Gissing's portrayal of the hard facts of a literary life remains as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century 

Robert McCrum
Mon 31 Mar 2014

New Grub Street is the first novel in this series explicitly to address, in a realistic narrative, the contemporary working conditions of a new class, the professional author. George Gissing, born the son of a chemist in 1857, was breaking important new ground, as well as responding to significant cultural change in the literary generation after Dickens (David Copperfield) and Thackeray (Pendennis).
By contrast, the eponymous hero of David Copperfield (No 15 in this series) is a writer, of course, but Dickens's focus is chiefly on Copperfield's childhood, not his career as a novelist. He never delves as painfully as Gissing does into the threadbare texture of Victorian literary life.
Part of this is due to the social and cultural upheavals inspired by Forster's Education Act of 1870. Gissing's career as a man of letters was the product of this. For the rest of the century, the lives of writers and readers would undergo a profound transformation which would comprehensively reshape the British literary landscape. Henceforth, high and low literary culture would increasingly diverge. This is one of the main themes in John Carey's important critical study The Intellectuals and the Masses. It is also the animating idea of New Grub Street.
Gissing was hardly alone in finding the role and conduct of the modern writer an urgent topic in late Victorian literary London. A year before New Grub Street, Henry James also published a novel, The Tragic Muse, about "the conflict between art and 'the world'", though James focused on painting and the stage more than literature. In 2014, in the midst of another paradigm shift, Gissing's subject remains as topical as ever, and addresses timeless themes in the everyday life of the full-time, professional writer.

In New Grub Street, the narrative is set in the literary world with which Gissing himself was intimately familiar; the title refers to the London street that, in the age of Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne (No 6 in this series), was synonymous with hack writing. By the 1890s, Grub Street no longer existed, though hack writing, of course, never goes away, with timeless imperatives. As one character puts it: "Our Grub Street of today is supplied with telegraphic communications, it knows what literary fare is in demand in every part of the world, its inhabitants are men of business, however seedy."
The novel's protagonists are a contrasted pair of writers: thoughtful Edwin Reardon, a shy "literary" novelist with few commercial prospects; and Jasper Milvain, a hard-driving young journalist who treats his writing as the means to an end in a ruthless literary marketplace. "I speak," he says, "only of good, marketable stuff for the world's vulgar." Reardon will die, unfulfilled, in poverty; Milvain will flourish in literary London ("I write for the upper-middle-class of intellect, the people who like to feel that what they are reading has some special cleverness"), navigate a complicated love life, and eventually marry Reardon's widow, Amy.
New Grub Street is Victorian in its realist depiction of a society in transition, but modern in the way it harks forward to the imminent new century with its portrait of the artist as an existential character making his solitary way in the world. The hero of Jude the Obscure, the next novel in this series, Jude Fawley, a working-class boy who dreams of becoming an Oxford scholar, is Reardon's West Country equivalent.

A note on the text

New Grub Street, a regular "three-decker" novel, was first published in three volumes by Smith, Elder & Co in 1891. There was no serialisation. Gissing already had a modest reputation as a novelist of working-class conflict from books such as Workers in the DawnDemosThyrzaand The Nether World, but had not achieved much financial security. In the 1890s, he began to write about middle-class life, with books such as The EmancipatedBorn in ExileThe Odd Women and The Paying Guest.
In 1890, having completed, and sold the copyright for, The Emancipated, Gissing began work on a succession of new novels, none of which prospered in his mind. In April 1890, we find him beginning work on a new manuscript entitled "A Man of Letters", but then becoming distracted by other projects. Finally, in October 1890, he records "a fresh beginning" on a novel now entitled New Grub Street, which was swiftly completed in December. The proofs arrived from the publisher in February, and Gissing's masterpiece appeared on 7 April 1891.
Later, for George Orwell, he was "perhaps the best novelist England has produced". Orwell argued that Gissing's "real masterpieces" were The Odd WomenDemos and New Grub Street. For Orwell, the central theme of these books is simple: "not enough money". Orwell's interest, as an indigent literary man, is understandable. From a longer perspective, it is New Grub Street that establishes Gissing as a writer of importance alongside George Meredith (not included in this series) and Thomas Hardy.

Other essential Gissing titles

Demos (1886); The Odd Women (1893); The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft(1903).


007 Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
014 Fair by William Thackeray (1848)  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Zhang Jingna / Women

by Zhang Jingna

Zhang Jingna / Women II

by Zhang Jingna

Irina Shayk / Women We Love

Irina Shayk

Esquire cover girl Irina Shayk made a name for herself as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, and has been the face of Intimissimi, Lacoste and Victoria’s Secret.
She even met current partner Christiano Ronaldo after they worked on an Armani Exchange campaign. Now, Esquire is proud to present nineteen things you (probably) didn’t know about Irina Shayk.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Charlotte Gainsbourg / Lars von Trier isn't a misogynist

Nymphomaniac stars: 'Lars isn't a misogynist, he loves women'

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin and Stellan Skarsgård reveal what it was like to work with Lars von Trier on his explicit new film, and why it is unfair to describe it as arthouse exploitation.

Xan Brooks
The Guardian, Thursday 6 February 2014

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lars von Trier, Stellan Skarsgård and Stacy Martin
Left-right: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lars von Trier, Stellan Skarsgård and Stacy Martin. Photograph: Christian Liliendahl/AFP/Getty Images
Lars von Trier's new film rolls into Copenhagen just ahead of hurricane Bodil, one startling storm preceding another. The blizzard hits, the planes are grounded and the wind is so strong it knocks the Christmas shoppers flying. To misquote Louis XV: après Lars, le déluge.

Stacy Martin / Nymphomaniac

Stacy Martin
Stacy Martin desnuda

Zhang Jingna / Flowers in December

Kwak Ji Young 

by Zhang Jingna in “Flowers in December” 

for Fashion Gone Rogue

Photographer Zhang Jingna 
Model Kwak Ji Young
Stylist Phuong My 
Hair by Junya Nakashima
Makeup by Viktorija Bowers 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chekhov / Anyuta

By Anton Chekhov
Translated by Constance Garnett


IN the cheapest room of a big block of furnished apartments Stepan Klotchkov, a medical student in his third year, was walking to and fro, zealously conning his anatomy. His mouth was dry and his forehead perspiring from the unceasing effort to learn it by heart.
In the window, covered by patterns of frost, sat on a stool the girl who shared his room — Anyuta, a thin little brunette of five-and-twenty, very pale with mild grey eyes. Sitting with bent back she was busy embroidering with red thread the collar of a man’s shirt. She was working against time... The clock in the passage struck two drowsily, yet the little room had not been put to rights for the morning. Crumpled bed-clothes, pillows thrown about, books, clothes, a big filthy slop-pail filled with soap-suds in which cigarette ends were swimming, and the litter on the floor — all seemed as though purposely jumbled together in one confusion...
“The right lung consists of three parts...” Klotchkov repeated. “Boundaries! Upper part on anterior wall of thorax reaches the fourth or fifth rib, on the lateral surface, the fourth rib... behind to the spina scapulæ...

Chekhov / The Ninny

by Anton Chekhov

Just a few days ago I invited Yulia Vasilyevna, the governess of my children, to come to mystudy. I wanted to settle my account with her.
“ Sit down, Yulia Vasilyevna,” I said to her. “ Let’s get our accounts settled. I’m sure youneed some money, but you keep standing on ceremony and never ask for it. Let me see. We agreed to give you thirty rubles a month, didn’t we?”؟
“No, thirty. I made a note of it. I always pay the governess thirty. Now, let me see. You have been with us for two months?”
“Two months and five days”.
“Two months exactly. I made a note of it. So you have sixty rubles coming to you. Subtract nine Sundays. You know you don’t tutor Kolya on Sundays, you just go out for a walk. And then the three holidays”...
Yulia Vasilyevna blushed and picked at the trimmings of her dress, but said not a word.
“Three holidays. So we take off twelve rubles. Kolya was sick for four days – those days you didn’t look after him. You looked after Vanya, only Vanya.
Then there were the three days you had toothache, when my wife gave you permission to stay away from the children after dinner. Twelve and seven makes nineteen. Subtract... That leaves... hm... forty-one rubles. Correct?”
Yulia Vasilyevna’s left eye reddened and filled with tears. Her chin trembled. She began to cough nervously, blew her nose, and said nothing.
“Then around New Year’s Day you broke a cup and a saucer. Subtract two rubles. The cup cost more than that – it was an heirloom, but we won’t bother about that. We’re the ones who pay. Another matter. Due to your carelessness Kolya climbed a tree and tore his coat. Subtract ten. Also, due to your carelessness, the chambermaid ran off with Vanya’s boots. You ought to have kept your eyes open. You get a good salary. So we dock off five more... On the tenth of January you took ten rubles from me”.
“I didn’t,” Yulia Vasilyevna whispered.
“But I made a note of it”.
“Well, yes – perhaps”...
“From forty-one we take twenty-seven. That leaves fourteen”.
Her eyes filled with tears, and her thin, pretty little nose was shining with perspiration. Poor little child!
“I only took money once,” she said in a trembling voice. “I took three rubles from your wife... never anything more”.
“Did you now? You see, I never made a note of it. Take three from fourteen. That leaves eleven. Here’s your money, my dear. Three, three, three... one and one. Take it, my dear”.
I gave her the eleven rubles. With trembling fingers she took them and slipped them into her pocket.
“Merci,” she whispered.
I jumped up, and began pacing up and down the room. I was in a furious temper.
“Why did you say ‘merci?” I asked.
“For the money”.
“Don’t you realize I’ve been cheating you? I steal your money, and all you can say is‘merci”!’
“In my other places they gave me nothing”.
“ They gave you nothing! Well, no wonder! I was playing a trick on you – a dirty trick... I’ll give you your eighty rubles, they are all here in an envelope made out for you. Is it possible for anyone to be such a nitwit? Why didn’t you protest? Why did you keep your mouth shut? It is possible that there is anyone in this world who is so spineless? Why are you such a ninny”?
She gave me a bitter little smile. On her face I read the words: “Yes, it is possible”.
I apologized for having played this cruel trick on her, and to her great surprise gave her the eighty rubles. And then she said “merci” again several times, always timidly, and went out. I gazed after her, thinking how very easy it is in this world to be strong.


Chekhov / A Tripping Tongue

A Tripping Tongue
by Anton Chekhov

NATALYA MIHALOVNA, a young married lady who had arrived in the morning from Yalta, was having her dinner, and in a never-ceasing flow of babble was telling her husband of all the charms of the Crimea. Her husband, delighted, gazed tenderly at her enthusiastic face, listened, and from time to time put in a question.
"But they say living is dreadfully expensive there?" he asked, among other things.
"Well, what shall I say? To my thinking this talk of its being so expensive is exaggerated, hubby. The devil is not as black as he is painted. Yulia Petrovna and I, for instance, had very decent and comfortable rooms for twenty roubles a day. Everything depends on knowing how to do things, my dear. Of course if you want to go up into the mountains . . . to Aie-Petri for instance . . . if you take a horse, a guide, then of course it does come to something. It's awful what it comes to! But, Vassitchka, the mountains there! Imagine high, high mountains, a thousand times higher than the church. . . . At the top--mist, mist, mist. . . . At the bottom --enormous stones, stones, stones. . . . And pines. . . . Ah, I can't bear to think of it!"

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chekhov / Oh The Public

Oh! The Public
By Anton Chekhov


“HERE goes, I’ve done with drinking! Nothing . . . n-o-thing shall tempt me to it. It’s time to take myself in hand; I must buck up and work . . . You’re glad to get your salary, so you must do your work honestly, heartily, conscientiously, regardless of sleep and comfort. Chuck taking it easy. You’ve got into the way of taking a salary for nothing, my boy — that’s not the right thing . . . not the right thing at all. . . . ”
After administering to himself several such lectures Podtyagin, the head ticket collector, begins to feel an irresistible impulse to get to work. It is past one o’clock at night, but in spite of that he wakes the ticket collectors and with them goes up and down the railway carriages, inspecting the tickets.
“T-t-t-ickets . . . P-p-p-please!” he keeps shouting, briskly snapping the clippers.

Chekhov / In the Dark

by Anton Chekhov

A FLY of medium size made its way into the nose of the assistant procurator, Gagin. It may have been impelled by curiosity, or have got there through frivolity or accident in the dark; anyway, the nose resented the presence of a foreign body and gave the signal for a sneeze. Gagin sneezed, sneezed impressively and so shrilly and loudly that the bed shook and the springs creaked. Gagin's wife, Marya Mihalovna, a full, plump, fair woman, started, too, and woke up. She gazed into the darkness, sighed, and turned over on the other side. Five minutes afterwards she turned over again and shut her eyes more firmly but she could not get to sleep again. After sighing and tossing from side to side for a time, she got up, crept over her husband, and putting on her slippers, went to the window.

Chekhov / A Work of Art

A work of art
By Anton Chekhov
Translated by Constance Garnett

SASHA SMIRNOV, the only son of his mother, holding under his arm, something wrapped up in No. 223 of the Financial News, assumed a sentimental expression, and went into Dr. Koshelkov’s consulting-room.
“Ah, dear lad!” was how the doctor greeted him. “Well! how are we feeling? What good news have you for me?”
Sasha blinked, laid his hand on his heart and said in an agitated voice: “Mamma sends her greetings to you, Ivan Nikolaevitch, and told me to thank you. . . . I am the only son of my mother and you have saved my life . . . you have brought me through a dangerous illness and . . . we do not know how to thank you.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Chekhov / A Joke

Illustration by Ernesto Bertani

by Anton Chekhov

IT was a bright winter midday. . . . There was a sharp snapping frost and the curls on Nadenka's temples and the down on her upper lip were covered with silvery frost. She was holding my arm and we were standing on a high hill. From where we stood to the ground below there stretched a smooth sloping descent in which the sun was reflected as in a looking-glass. Beside us was a little sledge lined with bright red cloth.
"Let us go down, Nadyezhda Petrovna!" I besought her. "Only once! I assure you we shall be all right and not hurt."
But Nadenka was afraid. The slope from her little goloshes to the bottom of the ice hill seemed to her a terrible, immensely deep abyss. Her spirit failed her, and she held her breath as she looked down, when I merely suggested her getting into the sledge, but what would it be if she were to risk flying into the abyss! She would die, she would go out of her mind.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Chekhov / The Beauties

The Beauties
By Anton Chekhov

I REMEMBER, when I was a high school boy in the fifth or sixth class, I was driving with my grandfather from the village of Bolshoe Kryepkoe in the Don region to Rostov-on-the-Don. It was a sultry, languidly dreary day of August. Our eyes were glued together, and our mouths were parched from the heat and the dry burning wind which drove clouds of dust to meet us; one did not want to look or speak or think, and when our drowsy driver, a Little Russian called Karpo, swung his whip at the horses and lashed me on my cap, I did not protest or utter a sound, but only, rousing myself from half-slumber, gazed mildly and dejectedly into the distance to see whether there was a village visible through the dust. We stopped to feed the horses in a big Armenian village at a rich Armenian’s whom my grandfather knew. Never in my life have I seen a greater caricature than that Armenian. Imagine a little shaven head with thick overhanging eyebrows, a beak of a nose, long gray mustaches, and a wide mouth with a long cherry-wood chibouk sticking out of it. This little head was clumsily attached to a lean hunch-back carcass attired in a fantastic garb, a short red jacket, and full bright blue trousers. This figure walked straddling its legs and shuffling with its slippers, spoke without taking the chibouk out of its mouth, and behaved with truly Armenian dignity, not smiling, but staring with wide-open eyes and trying to take as little notice as possible of its guests.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The 100 best novels / No 27 / The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

The 100 best novels: No 27 – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)

Wilde's brilliantly allusive moral tale of youth, beauty and corruption was greeted with howls of protest on publication 

Robert McCrum Mon 24 Mar 2014

f all the books in this series, Oscar Wilde's only novel enjoyed by far the worst reception on its publication. The reviews were dreadful, the sales poor, and it was not until many years after Wilde's death that this remarkable work of imagination was recognised as a classic.

Its gestation was troubled, too. First commissioned in the summer of 1889 by an American editor for Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, Wilde initially submitted a fairy tale "The Fisherman and his Soul", which was rejected. Eventually, his typescript for The Picture of Dorian Gray was delivered in April 1890, whereupon Lippincott's editor declared that "in its present condition there are a number of things an innocent woman would make an exception to".
In the light of several subsequent reviews, this was a comparatively mild critique. Wilde himself was steadfast in defending his author's vision. He always maintained that the Faustian idea of Dorian Gray, "the idea of a young man selling his soul in exchange for eternal youth", was "old in the history of literature". But when he gave an archetypal story a striking contemporary spin, with strong homoerotic undertones, he stirred up a furore of hostility.

Reread today, however, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a wonderfully entertaining parable of the aesthetic ideal (art for art's sake), and a sneak preview of the brilliance exhibited in plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere's Fan. What began as an outré, decadent novella, now seems more like an arresting, and slightly camp, exercise in late-Victorian gothic, than the depraved fiction alleged by his outraged critics.
Dorian Gray is the impossibly beautiful young man who becomes the subject of a portrait by the fashionable society painter, Basil Hallward. When the artist, who has become infatuated with his model, introduces the "young Adonis" to Lord Henry Wotton, he is rapidly seduced by the peer's witty and corrupting devotion to fin-de-siècle hedonism, some of it inspired by Wilde's own experience.
Among the influences that shaped the book, I would argue that Disraeli (No 11 in this series) is a ghostly godfather to the novel. Wilde tips his hat not only to Disraeli's Sybil, but also to Vivian Grey, his first novel. Closer to his own time, Wilde also took inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There was something about the literary alter ego that held a peculiar fascination for late Victorians.
Under the malign influence of Lord Henry – "the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it", is one of many Wildean epigrams scattered through the text – Dorian Gray plunges into a decadent and sinister milieu, becoming a slave to drugs and debauchery. His fatal love affair with the actress Sybil Vane alerts him to the secret of his eternal youth: he will remain untarnished while his portrait reflects the hideous corruption of his soul.
Eventually despairing, the young man blames the artist Hallward for his fate, and murders him. But Dorian Gray can never "be at peace". Finally, in a horrifying climax, he takes a knife to his own portrait. When his servants find him, the picture depicts their youthful master as they had once known him. The corpse next to it is as "withered, wrinkled and loathsome of visage" as the portrait had been. Art and life are back in harmony, as Wilde intended, and his brilliantly allusive moral tale is complete.
When the magazine version of Dorian Gray was published, there were howls of protest. Some reviewers declared that, far from exposing immorality, Wilde wanted to promote it. Elsewhere, the story was greeted with outrage by British reviewers, some of whom suggested that Wilde should be prosecuted on moral grounds, leading Wilde to defend his novel in letters to the press. One reviewer for a newspaper which declared that Lippincott'sshould be "ashamed to circulate" such filth, refused to describe the contents of the novel because he did not wish to "advertise the developments of an esoteric prurience".
As well as talk of prosecution, there was a strong hint of Francophobia against the decadent "yellow book" Lord Henry gives Dorian to recruit him to his belief in "Art". The Daily Chronicle found the novel to be "a tale spawned from the leprous literature of the French decadents". More dangerous were the attempts of some reviewers to link the novel to the Cleveland Street affair of 1889. This scandal, centred on a male brothel frequented by an upper-class clientele that included members of the British political elite, was an eerie forerunner, in its exposure of the demi-monde, of the Queensberry libel case that would eventually destroy Wilde in 1895.

A note on the text

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde's only novel, was published on 20 June 1890 in the July edition of Lippincott's, as a novella of 13 chapters, and was the leading contribution to the magazine. Several British reviewers condemned the book for immorality. The novel became so controversial that WH Smith withdrew that month's edition of Lippincott's from its railway station bookstalls.
In fact, the magazine's editors, fearful of charges of "indecency" had already cut some 500 words, without Wilde's knowledge, before publication. Deletions to Wilde's typescript included the elimination of several passages alluding to homosexual desire, and the deletion of three references to Gray's female lovers Sibyl Vane and Hetty Merton as his "mistresses". Wilde, it must be said, conducted himself during this campaign, with impressive dignity and composure.
Later, Wilde himself further revised the story for book publication, making significant alterations, cutting the most controversial passages, adding new chapters, and including a preface that has since become famous in its own right as his defence of art for art's sake. The amended version, extended from 13 to 20 chapters, was published in a single volume by Ward Lock & Co, in April 1891. This is now the standard version of the text.

Other essential Wilde titles

The Picture of Mr WH (1889); The Happy Prince & Other Tales (1888); De Profundis (1897).

007 Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
014 Fair by William Thackeray (1848)