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Yes, I do read *King Lear* for "fun". But not often. More often, I carry it around inside me in that way that many of us carry the texts we did for school exams. I have no doubt that *King Lear* is amongst the greatest achievements of human civilisation. If you become deeply acquainted with it, its capacity to enrich you will never be exhausted. My attachment to it has grown steadily for 20 years. There are very few products reviewed or advertised on Dooyoo that are capable of giving that kind of value. WHAT IS *KING LEAR* ABOUT? It is about being taken to the edge of the abyss, being invited to look into it, and then being pushed in. Hardly a cheerful experience - but it is an experience, or a possibility, that haunts every human capable of reflection. It is about two powerful men - King Lear and the Duke of Gloucester - who are destroyed by some of their own children because they have carelessly turned those children into predators. What is more, they are initially incapable of seeing that their other children - the ones who don't prey on them and are more loyal to the truth than to their fathers - are the ones who love them the best. It is about the stripping away of illusion - above all, the illusions created by power. It is about a man with power - Lear - who doesn't face up to the fact that the TRAPPINGS of power are an illusion created by the OWNERSHIP of power. He thinks he can have the trappings without the exercise and discovers that he's wrong. He doesn't see that another of the illusions created by power includes the illusion of love. He doesn't see how power can drive out truth. It is only when he is mad that he is sane enough to see that "a dog's obeyed in office". It is only when Gloucester, in the parallel sub-plot, has been blinded that he sees who really loves him. HOW TO ENJOY *KING LEAR* Get an edition where the footnotes are not at
the back of the book but at the foot of the page (i.e. something like the Arden edition). There are very few people I know who can read Shakespeare without the help of the occasional footnote! It's a pain to have to keep flicking from the text to the notes, fumbling around in the back of the book. *King Lear* is notoriously difficult to stage. It is one of Shakepeare's plays that is doubly enriched by being read as well as by being seen. Having said that, there are some excellent TV productions - the TV version of Richard Eyre's National Theatre production with Ian Holm as Lear is my favourite. When you get to know *King Lear* really well, it's worth looking at the sources that Shakespeare stole the story from (again, the Arden edition will oblige you with edited highlights from the sources). You will see the "Shakespeare effect" - you will see how he edited and changed the material he worked with, and this will give you a feel for Shakespeare that few other things will do. For example, Shakespeare deliberately chooses an unhappy ending, and then some: not all versions of the Lear story that Shakespeare knew had the unhappy ending. It is a play that will help you kiss the rod of your suffering. One of the reasons I suffer is because I do foolish or wicked things - or because I neglect to do the good of which I am capable. In other words, some of my suffering is self-inflicted and deserved. In *King Lear* we are confronted by two men who discover the literally unbearable joy of actually learning from their mistakes and accepting the truth of their own complicity in their downfall. This is an unpopular lesson in a world where nobody wants to admit that they might be in the wrong. Boy, writing Shakespeare reviews like this is VERY difficult!
I don't think I ever really believed that I would read Shakespeare for fun. I always thought that I would only ever trawl through him to find material with which to pass exams. But I was wrong. I do read Shakespeare for fun - and I read *Henry IV* for fun more than most. But before we go any further, a word of congratulation to Dooyoo. Nice one, Dooyoo! Unlike the Stationer's Register or the First Folio you invite us to think of Henry IV as a single play. And that's right. I don't think that you can really think of the two parts as fundamentally separate. So, if *Henry IV Part 1* is your set text for a forthcoming exam, hard luck! You should really try and get your head round *Part 2* as well! Having said that, what follows is not going to be an Eng Lit essay. My aim will be to write about *Henry IV* as a consumer product that you might buy for pleasure. If you're looking for Lit Crit insight, go to the library! Having said that, you will study the play so much better if you can enjoy it as well. It is strange to be writing about *Henry IV* as a book. Like all of Shakespeare's plays, it is difficult to appreciate unless you have seen it performed. However, for perfectly good reasons, Dooyoo implicitly invites us to respond to this play as a printed text. So, for me, part of the fun of reading Shakespeare is constantly to imagine how I might stage it, constantly to imagine how the lines might be delivered so that their astonishing third dimension might become as apparent as possible. And another thing that applies to just about the whole of Shakespeare: once you get your head round him, you will experience language in a way that is often thrilling and of which you are only partially conscious whilst you read or listen. His feel for language is so acute that he can effortlessly use words with contradictory connotations, calling upon each opposite at the same time and taking your awareness to a whole new level
. For example Falstaff tells Hal that if he banishes Jack Falstaff he is banishing the world. "The world" at one level means "everybody": Falstaff poses as Everyman. But "the world" also means "social custom" in its most demeaning sense (as in "worldly" or "man of the world", or "the world, the flesh, and the devil"). Falstaff, because he fails to make this discrimination, is devising his own punishment. Hal resolves to banish Jack, and does so, and by doing so becomes a transcendent figure. WHAT IS *HENRY IV* ABOUT? It is about a King, Henry IV, who lives in the terrible shadow of regicide. He is paying the terrible price for deposing his vain predecessor - and civil war is the price he has to pay. It is about the formation of the King who Shakespeare offers as the ideal: Henry V, the winner of Agincourt; the subduer of the French; the one who, by distracting with foreign conquest, unites the nation that has been divided by civil war. We also see Prince Hal, Henry V to be, living a thoroughly dissolute life knowing that when he becomes king, he will be putting all his bad behaviour behind him, knowing that his prodigal years are a sort of incarnation: he will be the king who REALLY knows what his people are like, he has stooped to the depths and sampled what he finds there. WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE *HENRY IV* PARTICULARLY PLEASURABLE FOR ME? 1. The breadth of vision, the two worlds - of high life and low life. This contrast is made palpable on the page by the distinction between prose and verse. I am constantly struck by the way Shakespeare imagines a world of total and crushing responsibility (the world of the court and the rebellion) and puts it next to a world of total irresponsibility, the world of "hearing the chimes at midnight", of debts never paid, of dissipated wealth gained from robbery. <br> &
lt;br><br>This polarisation speaks deeply to me: my life, like lots of others, is full of crushing responsibility and I dream occasionally of irresponsibility. But lest I think that there is some kind of middle way between these two things, in *Part 2* we get an extraordinary glimpse of the middle life, the world of work and everyday order, the world of Justices Shallow and Silent, the world of parsimony, smallness, poverty, corruption, and cowardice. The healing comes in *Henry V*, not with calm moderation, but with that most seductive of distractions, a "band of brothers" set on a grand crusade. 2. Falstaff. I never really enjoyed Falstaff as long as I kept expecting to be constantly laughing at him - this is not Verdi's delightfully slapstick character. Falstaff opened up for me once I started to think of him as one of the most consummate depictions of evil in the English language. Falstaff is so much fun to be around that you either excuse or ignore the terrible tragedies that light on people who wind up paying for his irresponsibility. His ragged troop led into battle at Shrewsbury are butchered, and the handful of survivors have a life of beggary to look forward to because they have been so badly maimed. And the court are right to panic at the thought that Falstaff might have his hand on the engines of real political power when Hal succeeds to the throne - Falstaff is utterly genial, and utterly corrupt. He himself knows that he can only survive under Henry V if Hal decides that he will no longer hang the thieves. I have never found an opinion harder to write than this one!
*Tristram Shandy* is one long practical joke - a joke played on the reader. So it helps no end to be ready to have your leg pulled. But then all kinds of other things are pulled too - Tristram's conception is interrupted by his mother asking his father whether or not he had forgotten to wind up a certain clock; Tristram is accidentally circumcised as a child by a falling sash window; Tristram's Uncle Toby invites the lady he is wooing to put her finger on the very spot where he was wounded in the groin at the siege of Namur. *Tristram Shandy* is one of the most stylistically anarchic and original works in the English language. It was written in the 1760's by a Yorkshire Parson and, among canonical novels, uses a range of devices unparalleled until Joyce brought out *Ulysses* - blank pages, blackened pages, marbled pages, tons of asterisks, squiggles to depict the way that Corporal Trim flourishes his stick, graphs depicting the progress of the narrative, etc. I'll give some pointers on the story shortly. But first my experience of actually trying to read the book. HOW TO READ *TRISTRAM SHANDY* If I'm honest, it took me four attempts (over a period of 16 years) to get into Tristram Shandy. On each attempt I just got fed up with the bewildering digressions and the strange mixture of spurious and genuine and thoroughly irrelevant erudition. The thing that opened this amazing and tricky book was to listen to it on the car's tape deck on long journeys. The Penguin tapes, read by Steven Pacey, are stupendous. (The Naxos recording with Joe Moffat is good - more material than the Penguin, but Pacey's reading is more entertaining.) Necessarily they cut out a great deal of extraneous detail and he captures the characters most engagingly. Once I had got the benefit of the overall picture, going back to the full text was both a doddle and a delight. And because there is not much plot to the story
in the usual sense of the word, it isn't "spoiled" by the telling. WHAT *TRISTRAM SHANDY* IS LIKE *Tristram Shandy* is a smutty, ludicrous, satirical, sentimental book which, by endless digression, takes you backwards and forwards through the life and opinions of Tristram's closest male relatives (women are carefully kept in the background). We are told, in elaborate and chaotic detail, the circumstances surrounding Tristram's conception and birth. We are introduced to one of the most engaging of all comic fictional creations: Tristram's Uncle Toby. It is hard not to fall in love with Uncle Toby. The characters are depicted mainly in terms of their obsessions ("hobby horses"). The utterly gentle Uncle Toby is depicted mainly with reference to his reconstructions of sieges on his bowling green - he's obviously one of the first wargamers. The life of Walter Shandy (Tristram's father), is dominated by his highly eccentric taste for philosophising and coming up with "Shandean" hypotheses (e.g. the proposition that one of the things that most deeply affects your character is your forename - and one of the most accursed forenames is "Tristram"). For a long time, the polite reading public commonly read *Tristram Shandy* in excerpts. Of course, the naughty bits were cut out and the most sentimental parts were kept in - so there's this strange dislocation between the *Tristram Shandy* that most people read until the modern age and its literary reputation. It must also be borne in mind that *Tristram Shandy* is not as strikingly original as you might think at first. I have a hunch that Sterne owes a great debt of gratitude to those other famous literary clerics: François Rabelais, Robert Burton, and Jonathan Swift. The Penguin Classics edition is very thorough and is based on the standard scholarly edition, the Florida Edition.
*Hannibal* is a Movie (and a book) about the psychopathic superman, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It is the third in a sequence of thrillers about serial killing in the course of which Lecter's role has gradually increased. It is a film in which, with the possible exception of FBI Agent Starling (deputed to hunt down Lecter), nobody of note is what they appear to be. It is a film about the hunt for the escaped Hannibal Lecter, a hunt confused by the corrupting effects of Lecter's only surviving victim: the extremely wealthy and highly unsavoury ex-child abuser, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). Verger, of course, wishes to have Lecter all to himself so that he can take a leisurely and private revenge. In the middle of this we have Agent Starling (Julianne Moore) more or less confined to a virtual world in her search for Lecter - the world of a forensic laboratory with access to the Internet. The film concludes with a particularly gruesome sequence which I will not "spoil" for you (as it was spoiled for me) by telling. In cinematic terms, *Hannibal* is part of a sequence NOT a series. This is an important fact to bear in mind if you are expecting a continuation of *Silence of the Lambs* (SOTL). The apologists for the movie (who are not merely trying to evade the fact that Jodie Foster didn't want to do Starling again) are right to say that this film is about Hannibal whereas SOTL was more fundamentally about Starling. The story is well told. Hopkins' performance is definitely more polished than it was in SOTL. The truth is that in SOTL, there were moments when he was inclined to wheedle like a melodramatic villain. None of that in *Hannibal*. There are various touches of informing realism that shed light both on us who watch films like *Hannibal* and on some murky corners of the world: there really IS a market for serial killer mementoes - the film starts with Lecter's former nurse flogging
off souvenirs that he has stolen from the now abandoned psychiatric hospital in which Lecter first meets Starling in SOTL. It also, in rather hypothetical terms, makes clear the incompatibility of personal revenge with justice. But there are things that hold this film back from being the truly great story that SOTL is. 1) ITS ERUDITION (THE REFERENCES TO OPERA, FLORENTINE RENAISSANCE HISTORY, AND TO DANTE) TENDS TO BE MERELY DECORATIVE. The connections that Lecter seeks to make with literature and history are rather two-dimensional: they do not resonate as deeply as they could. Informed references to literature and music tend to come across as the snobby jargon of the elite, or as a self-justifying code for Lecter's psychopathic behaviour - they are not allowed to really ILLUMINATE anything. This, of course, upholds the long standing Hollywood distaste for European highbrow - which is ironic when you consider that the producer and director are thoroughly European (de Laurentis & Ridley Scott). By contrast, the American totems of technology, plutocracy, corruption, therapy, and plain, small town puritan rectitude are presented as the genuinely effective tools for detection and explanation. 2) THE FILM IS INTERESTINGLY AMBIVALENT ABOUT LECTER HIMSELF. Both in SOTL and *Manhunter*, you get the feeling that the storytellers want us to find Lecter attractive. In *Hannibal*, you are left with no doubts on the question. Lecter's psychopathy seems to give him superhuman powers and in Hannibal we are led to believe that he is morally discriminating in his choice of victims ("free range rude"). The film has little choice in the matter: after all, it expects its audience to find entertainment value in the depiction of amputation, disembowelling, maiming, and cannibalism. In other words, you must come clean with yourself if you enjoy this movie: a bit of you is just a plain sadist.
Even the religiously minded are not agreed on what "religion" is. Evangelical Christians in particular are suspicious of having their faith defined as a "religion" - they would say that "religion" describes the human attempt to reach God whereas true Christianity is about God reaching out to humans. In the Catholic sense of the word, "religion" applies to Christians who are bound by a rule of life - e.g. monks, nuns, friars. So, for example, your "name in religion" is the name you take when you become a monk or nun. I can only speak with any certainty about Christianity. So I beg the pardon of adherents to other confessions. But I can speak from the experience of knowing a lot of Christian people very well. I'm not that well acquainted with fundamentalists - although I've a pretty fair grasp of what fundamentalists espouse. My experience is overwhelmingly of the mainstream - Anglicans, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers. The biggest problems that both religious people and non-Religious people have with religious questions are usually to do with TRUTH and AUTHORITY. Non-Religious people (and various opinions on Dooyoo give ample evidence of this) keep on decrying the bad behaviour of religious people and often ignore the truth claims of religion - I'm not saying that the critics of religion don't have immensely powerful reasons for not accepting the truth claims of Christianity, it's just that they often unaccountably ignore them. Christians are also prone to ignore uncomfortable questions of truth - the texts in scripture and the Conciliar documents and credal affirmations that get them into trouble either with other Christians or with the world. For this debate to go forward, I believe that there are certain misconceptions about Christianity that need to be dispelled: 1) CHRISTIANITY, LIKE ANY OTHER CREED, CAN BE H
ORRIFICALLY DISTORTED BY ITS FOLLOWERS. Look at what Hitler did to Darwinism. But Auchwitz doesn't make Darwin wrong. Torquemada and Richard Coeur de Lion don't make Christ wrong. If anything, it's the other way round. 2) CHRISTIANITY IS NOT INTERESTED IN WHETHER YOU BELIEVE IN THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. The God of the Christians is not flattered by the compliment you pay Him by simply believing that He is there. Christians would say that the devil believes in the existence of God. What matters to Christians is whether you TRUST God as revealed in Jesus Christ and demonstrate that trust by your obedience to His commandments. 3) MOST CHRISTIANS DON'T THINK OF THEMSELVES AS BEING BETTER THAN THEIR NEIGHBOURS BY VIRTUE OF THE FACT THAT THEY ARE CHRISTIANS. Some non-Christians disguise their spiritual laziness by making this strange claim. 4) MOST CHRISTIANS I KNOW ARE HYPOCRITES. But so are most of the non-Christians I know who reproach them for the same. Hypocrisy is a common human trait. 5) THE EXISTENCE OF CRUSADES AND RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY HARDLY REPRESENTS THE BEST OF CHRISTIANITY. The awfulness of these events is heightened by the fact that they represent a FAILURE of Christ's professed disciples to live up to His teaching. If bigotry (not a sole property of religious people, BTW) disproves the existence of God, its existence merely says something horrible about humans in general - and that includes you and me. 6) MOST OF THE REAL CHRISTIANS DON'T BELIEVE IN ORDER TO FEEL BETTER. They believe because they think it's true - and are baffled by people who say, "It must be so nice and comforting to have faith." Yes, I see lives suffused by joy as a result of conversion. I see people defeat heroin addiction through conversion. But I also see faithful Christians immensely weighed down by the pain and cost of discipleship too. You can believe i
n the existence of gravity not because it makes you feel better but because it is true. Gravity, for the most part, makes life much easier. But, when you tumble over and bark your shins, you are less than enamoured by gravity. Christianity removes some burdens and replaces them with others. It's Utilitarians who measure each thing by its power to make you feel happy - but that's not the final arbiter for Christians.
If you believe in Capital Punishment, you must have a profound belief in both lawyers and policemen. When Timothy Evans was pardoned in 1966 (16 years after he had been wrongly hanged after allegedly strangling to death his baby daughter), one of the effects of that decision was to weaken the almost superstitious belief in the infallibility of British justice that many people held at the time. Lawyers get things wrong sometimes. The police get things wrong sometimes too. They are even more likely to get things wrong when they have the dragon of public outrage breathing fire down their neck. In other words, the worst crimes have, I suspect, an even higher likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. (There's even a good case to suggest that Dr. Crippen was wrongly hanged. If only Marshall Hall had conducted his defence.) As a simple example, I can remember the hysteria that surrounded the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bomb in the late 1970's - a grotesque act of mass murder. I also, briefly, met one of the men sent to jail for that murder shortly before he was, quite rightly, released. I also remember the veneer of certainty that covered that conviction, assisted by the hi-tec forensic science techniques of the time ... techniques that were subsequently shown to be deeply flawed. With Capital Punishment, there's also the fraught question of line-drawing. Despite all appearances it's very difficult to write a law that can neatly distinguish between the crime of passion on the one hand and the sadistic act of premeditated murder on the other. That is one of the reasons why it was abolished in the UK in the 1960's - the ludicrous inequalities created by the distinction between capital and non-capital murder. Sometimes those who sadistically and premeditatedly murder have been, in some measure, provoked by their victim. Handy dandy, which is the justice and which is the thief? I am deeply suspicious of theori
es of punishment founded on the idea of deterrence, and murder's a real good case of the inadequacy of deterrence. Those least likely to be deterred are, ironically, those most likely to elicit public sympathy - the battered wife, the crime of passion. Those most likely to be deterred are those who commit for calculated reasons usually relating to property and profit (contract killers, greedy relatives). Although retribution is a much sounder rationale for punishment ("the punishment fits the crime"), it too doesn't help. I know people whose lives have been appallingly blighted by a single act of mugging or a burglary. These people often nurse a rage in their heart towards those who injured them so great that they too call for the death penalty for mugging and for burglary. Indeed, mugging and burglary were once capital offences in the UK. All of this is exacerbated by the terrible morbid fixation of the public for the activities of sadists (viz. the number of newspapers that can be sold by mention of the name of Myra Hindley). And there's a sadistic bit of our imagination that likes the idea of inflicting extreme pain on the worst perpetrators. Their sadism seems to license ours. The very worst punishment that can be inflicted on the worst perpatrators is to do everything we can to confront them with the wickedness of their actions and lead them genuinely to repent. Doing that is extremely difficult, but it needs to be done all the same.
This is an opinion I didn't want to write, but I think that a balance needs to be redressed on this tragic subject. I realise that this is not going to make me many friends. The whole matter is complicated by the fact that those who oppose abortion for non-medical reasons speak an entirely different moral language to those who defend the right of the prospective mother to choose. The argument never meets - each shouts all the louder into the other's deaf ear. So, what is the story? Many women with unplanned pregnancies opt for abortion with great reluctance - many are pressurised by fear of family reaction, fear of hardship, fear of coping when the father is disengaged or indifferent or irresponsible, fear of being unable to cope with parenthood. All too often these fears are justified. Expecting a woman to go to full term and give birth to a new child when she is only reluctantly pregnant is to demand a great deal. In every case the prospective mother's happiness or well-being has been put at stake by unplanned pregnancy. And our society - being basically a liberal society - places a great deal of value on the individual's capacity to pursue happiness. To see a foetus as another human being is very hard for us. We ourselves have no memory of being in the womb (though there are some rather cranky rumours to the opposite effect), and thus we cannot really imagine a foetus being capable of happiness or pain. And the consciousness of happiness or pain, as has already been hinted at, is the central moral index for most liberals - it is almost coterminous with our definition of being human. BTW, the arguments about euthanasia come from the same stable - "if I cannot be happy, my life has no value". And yet I was once a foetus. And so were you - assuming you are still reading this! Just because there are things we cannot sense doesn't mean that they are not there or that they don't hav
e a a vital bearing on our existence. For example, Freud established once and for all that the consciousness of every one of us floats on a sea which we cannot fathom and which only indirectly discloses its hidden contours - even at this moment, a great part of your being is hidden from your own awareness. Even though we are not aware of it, it is still there - it is called our "unconscious" or "subconscious". So, what is my position? I believe that when a foetus is aborted, a human life is terminated. A human life almost at its most vulnerable. A human life which has no ability to speak for itself. Capitalism will sacrifice these lives because it does not care for the welfare benefit bill. Socialism will sacrifice these lives because it believes that to dignify a foetus with the title "human" is a religious superstition. In the middle, many a pregnant woman is caught between the pressures of these ideologies, trying to carve out some freedom for herself, still living in fear of herself or others who find her unborn child an inconvenience. This comes all the more easily to Anglo-Saxons because there is a truth about ourselves that we would rather not face: we live in a culture that, for the most part, doesn't like children and is largely morally indifferent to the human status of unborn children. If we lived in a culture that REALLY valued children AND parenthood (planned or unplanned), this argument would not be so one-sided. And there would be a deeper concern for the many women who have been deeply scarred by the tragic experience of abortion as well as a concern for the children they were often forced to have terminated.
"Shakespeare in Love" does to the story of William Shakespeare what William Shakespeare did to the story of Richard III, i.e. distorted it to accord neatly with the prevailing political climate. And you know what? It REALLY doesn't matter. "Shakespeare in Love" is a not-too-serious attempt to cure people of their phobia about Shakespeare. Some of the people who whine about having been forced to read Shakespeare at school will be defrosted by this romantic romp. It's fun. It's unstuffy. It's full of intelligible in-jokes about the theatre & entertainment industry. Even the London Cabbie gets a mention. The film intertwines a romanticised version Shakespeare's own life with the writing of "Romeo and Juliet" - a doomed love affair with plenty of boisterous farce. Shakespeare emerges as a puzzled, earthy, rather dashing, romantic, writing-blocked, ambitious young writer-player who's out to make a big popular hit. "Romeo and Juliet" is portrayed as a story that springs from life rather than as something effete, nebulous, composed of airy nothings. Why is "Shakespeare in Love" a distortion? The best clue is to be found in the way that Sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day"), is brought into the story. Sonnet 18 is, of course, a love poem - in reality addressed by Shakespeare to another man. In "Shakespeare in Love" the poem is addressed to a woman - the woman with whom Shakespeare is in love! The main conclusion to be deduced from this is that the film suppresses the fact that Shakespeare is NOT a Romantic author, however much he may have been raved over by the Romantics. Shakespeare, in common with most educated people of his day, had a deep suspicion of passion ("Give me the man that is not passion's slave") - his sonnets addressed to the fair young man have nothing of the passion he reserves for the sonnets th
at deal with the sexual desire men have for women, and none of the disgust he feels for the fact that he is subject to his own sexual desire for women: " ....none knows well to shun the heaven that leads men to this hell" And, of course, Shakespeare's audience would not have had the depth of sympathy for the predicament of Romeo and Juliet that a modern audience has. BUT WHO CARES! "Shakespeare in Love" will be for most people a lot of fun as well as an illumination. If it helps get rid of the awful atmosphere of snobbery that stops some inverse snobs from enjoying Shakespeare, it will have done its job.
They haven't even heard of Samuel Richardson in the pub in the village he was born in. I know, I went there specially to ask after him. But one day, I hope, they will acknowledge him. Richardson is a genius - but like all pioneers, his achievement seems less now than it is - simply because we take for granted what he achieved. If you love the classical English novel - Fielding, Austen, Dickens, the Brontë's - you will one day have to set the record straight by reading Richardson, for they all stand upon his shoulders. The novel was first published in the 1740's. It is epistolary - written in the form of a series of letters. It is about a young woman, Clarissa, torn between her desire to obey her parents and her fatal attraction for the wealthy, charming, aristocratic Mr. Lovelace who is also the most appalling sexual predator. Her parents, through the prompting of her jealous brother and sister, effectively drive Clarissa into the hands of Lovelace. They do this by demanding, for purely mercenary reasons, that she marry somebody wholly unworthy of her. What follows, when she falls into the hands of Lovelace, is an act of the most hateful and cynical exploitation. "Clarissa", I suspect, is Richardson's masterpiece (I've not read his last novel, 'Sir Charles Grandison'- I'm not even sure if it's in print). If you finish it, you will feel like you have REALLY achieved something. The reason for this is simple: the book is VAST. It makes "War and Peace" seem comparatively slim. It is 1,500 pages long in the Penguin edition - but bigger pages than the Penguin Classics edition of "War and Peace." In fact it took me a while to learn how to hold the book without my arms aching. My solution was to read it sitting on the sofa with the book rested on a cushion on my knees! If you take this novel on, it will cost you dear in time, attention and, for the last 800 pages,
deep emotional engagement with the plot. There are times when it travels with maddening slowness - maddening, because you can't really skip the tough bits without knowing that you're losing something vital. Beware of the Penguin dust cover - it irritatingly tells you the plot. Suffice it to say, "Clarissa" is a tragedy. The main aim of the novel, like its predecessor, "Pamela", was to defend the virtue of chastity. But, in this respect, it is very strange: for a novel designed to extol chastity, it is deeply sex-obsessed. Mind you, he had learnt to tone it down because "Pamela" is TOTALLY sex-obsessed. I was attracted to "Clarissa" for three reasons: 1 - It's reputation. It was read avidly and generated an enormous amount of interest when it was first published. It is constantly referred to by people writing about better known classical novels. Most sexual predators in most great novels for 150 years after "Clarissa" are mostly drawn on the lines of Lovelace. I suspect that everything from "Dangerous Liaisons" to Don Giovanni owes a debt to "Clarissa". 2 - Its size. 3 - The wonderful TV adaptation with Sean Bean as Lovelace. It was immensely powerful and poignant.
Waverley is a novel about a young, well-bred Englishman, Edward Waverley, from a family of mixed Hanoverian vs. Jacobite (non-Juror) sympathies who finds himself unwittingly caught up in the '45 Jacobite rebellion. He fights at the Battle of Prestonpans and travels with the Highland army and Bonny Prince Charlie ("The Chevalier") right down to Derby and is separated from the Jacobite Army during their retreat through the Lake District. The rest, as they say, is history. Don't be put off by the fact that Waverley starts off somewhat slowly! It was, after all, Scott's first novel and in his second wind of inspiration he really lifts this book off the ground. When Waverley meets the Chevalier in person, the novel becomes astonishingly vivid. I read "Waverley" with a friend whilst on holiday in the Lake District. We were slightly amused to drive into town only to be immediately confronted by a pub called "The Waverley". We thought it was just an amusing coincidence - after all, the novel's action predates by a century the railway station named after "The Waverley" novels. We didn't realise at that point that one of the crucial moments in the novel takes place in the Lake District. Indeed, as the action moved into the Lake District, we realised that it was describing places we could see out of the window - and that these events were largely historical. The following day we went hunting for the grave of Bland's Troop of Horse named in the novel and duly found it. "Waverley" is far more important than you may realise. It may just have been the novel that helped "rescue" novel writing and reading for men! It also paves the way for the historical novel as we know it - I suspect that Tolstoy's debt to Scott is immense. What gives this novel its twist is Scott's own deeply divided sympathies. You can tell that his heart loves the romance of the Highla
nd uprising and the Jacobite cause - and that his head thinks that it is all the most dangerous and ill-advised nonsense conceivable. In Waverley you have the classic Romantic conflict between the Catholic noble savage (the Highlander) and the Protestant dully rational and civilising (the Lowland magistrate). The conflict also has its forensic twist (unavoidable given that Scott was a lawyer) when the "barbaric" Highlanders are executed in Carlisle by the "civilised" method of hanging, drawing, and quartering. All in all, this is a very intriguing novel - as clear an exposition of divided heart as you are likely to come across.
Q. What do you call 5000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea? A. A good start. This little joke might serve quite adequately as a good summary of Bleak House. Yes, it has plenty of toe-curling Dickensian sentimentality and magnificent rhetoric. But, these defects forgiven, it is full of astute caricature which is often comic, caustic, salutary, pathetic. It is full of Dickensian special effects - one of the central characters spontaneously combusts, and many others are driven to one kind of madness or another. It is full of wonderful little details - a bedroom curtain held on its rail by a kitchen fork in the chaotic home of the absurd do-gooder, Mrs. Jellybee. In a huge sweep, this novel describes how just about every layer of English society is locked together and largely blighted by the hugely inadequate system of law that we call "Equity" - the species of law that is dispensed by the Court of Chancery that once sat in the old hall of Lincoln's Inn - and which was radically overhauled some twenty years after Bleak House was published. It is inspired by a real-life law suit ("the Titchbourne Claimant") that took over 30 years to come to settlement. In Bleak House, the central lawsuit, unresolved for decades, eating up a disputed estate in lawyers' fees (much to the amusement of the lawyers), is called, in capital letters, JARNDYCE AND JARNDYCE. All kinds of people get swept up into the case - from Lady Dedlock, the leader of fashion, to Jo the Crossing Sweeper (a child who is a Dickensian forerunner of the Squeegee merchants who clean windscreens at traffic lights), the poorest of the poor. In the middle, you have plenty of calm lawyers and one who is thoroughly ominous, Mr. Tulkinghorn, who knows everybody's secrets. JARNDYCE AND JARNDYCE leaves within its wake a myriad of broken hearts, broken minds, suicides, and paupers. The thing about caricature, of course, is that it does
not depict the appearance, it depicts the soul. As long as you remember that fact, you can only wish to have the good fortune to meet a soul as excellent as that of one of the narrators of the story, Esther. There's something chillingly Blairite about Bleak House. It is a novel about an institution, the Court of Chancery, that Tony Blair would regard as the epitome of one of the "forces of conservatism". Whether this attracts you or turns you off, the truth is that Bleak House is an astonishing achievement.
Yes, I have personal experience of the issues that go along with this question. No, it's not appropriate for me to allude to that experience in anything more than generalisations. Sorry I can't make this one more personal. I say this because our culture of victimhood can sometimes skew moral debate. This question is so vast that I will deliberately exclude any number of lines of thought. Sorry if what follows is therefore somewhat incomplete. Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, discovered that the desire of the terminally ill to be put to death prematurely was vastly reduced if you could reassure the patient of the following: 1) That their pain could be controlled. 2) That they could die with dignity. 3) That their life was of value to the people caring for them - i.e. that they were not merely a "burden" to those who cared for them. In her experience, if the dying were reassured of these things, they NEVER expressed the wish for their life to be deliberately foreshortened. (Cue those who will alude to a condition allegedly beyond the control of palliative medicine.) Deep out of our preconscious comes this fear that some want to translate into law - fear of the pain of dying and shame of the effect that our dying might have on others. In short, there are lots of people in this society who basically don't know how to die or how to deal with the dying of others. This is not their fault - we are all brought up strenuously to avoid serious contemplation of our own deaths. Euthanasia, for some, is just the best devised means for avoiding serious thought about your own mortality and its implications for your relationship to others, including the people you might be asking to have you "put down." The best book I ever read about euthanasia isn't about euthanasia at all - it is about murder. It is a true story of the trial 50 years ago
of Dr. John Bodkin Adams written by Lord Devlin, the judge at Dr. Adams' trial. It is called "Easing the Passing". It is about a Doctor accused of the murder of those of his wealthy patients who had remembered him in their will. (He was rightly acquitted - there was even evidence to suggest that his regime of pain control actually lengthened the lives of his patients.) He became suspect BECAUSE HE WAS A LEGATEE, i.e. it was assumed that he had a financial interest in hastening the death of his patients. I have seen relatives hovering like vultures at the deathbed of the terminally ill. I have seen them swoop down for the coveted possessions the minute that their "loved one" died - I have known the house cleared the following day. I have even known it cleared as soon as the loved one was admitted to hospital. No, this doesn't just happen in Victorian novels. I have seen the vultures gather round the wealthy and around an estate worth less than £500, or merely the right to assume the tenancy of a council house. And the vultures, of course, don't see themselves as vultures. They are merely the next of kin of a terminally ill patient about whom they sometimes have good reason to be ambivalent. They sometimes think that the few possessions they will snaffle up are merely fair recompense for their own perceived suffering at the hands, or in the service, of the dearly departing. Or maybe they see the possession of the possessions of the dearly departing as a recognition of their place in the family pecking order. Or it may be that they're under financial pressure and could do with the extra cash. If euthanasia was legalised these relatives, presumably, might SOMETIMES find themselves given the LEGAL authority to determine whether the dying person should have their life deliberately foreshortened. And no legislator I know of could frame a law to search deep enough into the human heart so as to prevent this evil
. I have a feeling that people who don't know how to die are disabled from thinking as effectively as they might about how to live.
I can understand how many might be reluctant to see Schindler's List - any ethical (as opposed to morbidly inquisitive) treatment of the holocaust/shoa will hardly attract people who go to the movies (like me) mainly to be entertained. I understand that reluctance because I was reluctant. I had to be dragged along by a friend. However, when I saw the film, I knew that it was a masterpiece. As you probably already know, it is a true story about a Nazi war profiteer who was carefree enough not to lose all of his humanity. In an almost indiscernible process, his concern for his Jewish slave labourers from the Lodz ghetto gathers momentum and by some deft administrative work, his main book-keeper manages, only just, to preserve over 1000 Jews from almost certain extermination in some squalid corner of Auchwitz-Birkenau. One of the greatest qualities of the film is that its art disguises its art - its apparent simplicity is artfully arrived at. And so it should be. Had it been more superficially sophisticated, it would have done the unpardonable: it would have risked glamorising the whole tragedy (Coppola, almost against his will, glamorises the Mafia and the Vietnam War, etc). It stubbornly resists an analysis that would seek to expound upon its cinematographic nuances. If you spend too much time thinking about the plot and the technique, the movie will have failed: its real purpose is to make you reflect on the holocaust, not on the movie. With that purpose in mind, I suppose that one of the most crushing moments is an apparently innocuous clip shot from a train approaching the famous tower straddling the railway track at Auchwitz. As I saw it, I was suddenly struck - I may even have involuntarily whispered, "Oh my God, that's not a film set, that's the real thing." I believe that some of it was really filmed on location in Auchwitz. The effect on me was to experience both a powerful illusion of the reality of t
he holocaust and, accompanying this illusion, a terrible pang of horror, shame, and sadness. The "final solution" is perhaps the greatest of all human moral catastrophes and anything which makes one feel a pang of shame for being human and thus somehow implicated in that defeat is a good thing. One becomes aware that if it has been done once, it will be tried again (as history has shown) and anything which encourages a perpetual moral vigilance has got to be a good thing. I suppose that my long-term impression of the film is that is written without hatred or bitterness, simply an almost dumbfound horror at the madness that made the whole thing possible and a defiant refusal to be finally defeated. That is perhaps its towering achievement