Literature

Twice Indeed

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In Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice, a head injury gives James Bond amnesia, and the world briefly thinks him dead. An obituary appears in the London Times:

To serve the confidential nature of his work, he was accorded the rank of lieutenant in the Special Branch of the RNVR, and it is a measure of the satisfaction his services gave to his superiors that he ended the war with the rank of commander.

In For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, Ben MacIntyre notes that this wording contains a “knowing glimmer of self-congratulation”: Fleming himself had been commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in July 1939 as a lieutenant and was promoted to commander a few months later.

Namesakes

Sigourney Weaver was born Susan Weaver. She named herself Sigourney at 14, after a character mentioned briefly by Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby:

She came over to me and whispered, ‘I’ve just heard the most surprising thing. Look, please come and see me. I’m staying at my aunt’s … Mrs. Sigourney Howard … phone book …’ She was hurrying away as she spoke, to join her friends who were waiting to drive her home.

“I was so tall,” Weaver told Time in 1986, “and Susan was such a short name. To my ear Sigourney was a stage name — long and curvy, with a musical ring.”

She couldn’t have known it at the time, but it appears that Fitzgerald intended Sigourney to be a man’s name: He had borrowed it from his friend Father Sigourney Fay, to whom This Side of Paradise is also dedicated.

“Jordan, it is clear, is here adopting the formal ‘English’ style of addressing her aunt by her husband’s name(s),” writes John Sutherland in Curiosities of Literature. “This was not just etiquette in the best circles; it was standard procedure in phone books of the 1920s. The husband paid the bills, and his was the name listed.”

Comment

Whoever prepared the index for Desmond Ryan’s 1967 book The Fenian Chief: A Biography of James Stephens had a mordant sense of humor — it contains this entry:

O'Brien, An:
  never turns his back on an enemy, 32
  would never retreat from fields in which ancestors were kings, 33
  does, 34

Short Work

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F.A. Pottle’s index to the 1950 Edinburgh University Press edition of James Boswell’s London Journal condenses an entire romantic relationship into one paragraph:

Lewis, Mrs (Louisa), actress. JB to call Louisa in journal; receives JB; JB visits; JB’s increased feeling for; JB discusses love with; JB anticipates delight with; JB lends two guineas to; disregards opinion of world; discusses religion with JB; JB entreats to be kind; uneasiness of discourages JB; JB declares passion for; promises to make JB blessed; … makes assignation with JB; consummation with JB interrupted; … JB likes better and better; JB’s felicity delayed; … JB afraid of a rival; JB feels coolness for; … JB incredulous at infection from; JB enraged at perfidy of; … JB asks for his two guineas back …

Togetherness

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Louisa May Alcott’s father suffered a stroke in 1888, and she arrived at his bedside on March 2, just two days before he died.

She said, “Father, here is your Louy, what are you thinking as you lie here so happily?”

He said, “I am going up. Come with me.

She said, “Oh, I wish I could.”

She did: She died four days later, on March 6.

Last Words

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A letter from Arthur Conan Doyle to Light, April 5, 1930:

SIR, — It might interest your readers to know that some weeks ago I had a communication which professed to come from Thomas Hardy. It came through an amateur Medium from whom I had only once before had a message, which was most veridical. Therefore, I was inclined to take Hardy’s message seriously, the more so as intrinsically it was worthy of him. I should place it on the same level of internal evidence as the Oscar Wilde and the Jack London scripts. Hardy gave a posthumous review of his own work, some aspects of which he now desired to revise and modify. The level of his criticism was a very high and just one. He then, as a sign of identity, sent a poem, which seems to me to be a remarkable one. It describes evening in a Dorsetshire village. Without quoting it all I will give here the second verse which runs thus:

Full well we know the shadow o’er the green,
When Westering sun reclines behind the trees,
The little hours of evening, when the scene
Is faintly fashioned, fading by degrees.

The third and fourth lines are in my opinion exquisite. I do not know if they were memories of something written in life. I should be glad to know if anyone recognises them.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Thirsty Work

connery

As the series developed, readers came to expect an ever more extensive drinks menu. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for example, the eleventh book, Bond downs no less than forty-six drinks, the widest variety in any single book. According to one Bondologist, these include: unspecified quantities of Pouilly-Fuissé white wine, Taittinger champagne, Mouton Rothschild ’53 claret, calvados, Krug champagne, three bourbons with water, four vodka and tonics, two double brandy and ginger ales, two whisky and sodas, three double vodka martinis, two double bourbons on the rocks, at least one glass of neat whisky, a flask of Enzian schnapps, Marsala wine, the better part of a bottle of fiery Algerian wine (served by M), two more Scotch whiskies, half a pint of I.W. Harper bourbon, a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whisky with water, on the rocks, a bottle of Riquewihr wine, four steins of Franziskaner beer, and a double Steinhäger gin. The same indefatigable researcher has found that although vodka martini has now become Bond’s signature drink, he only drinks nineteen of them in the books, compared to thirty-seven bourbons, twenty-one Scotches and a remarkable thirty-five sakes (entirely the result of his massive consumption of that particular drink in You Only Live Twice).

— Ben MacIntyre, For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, 2008

Near and Far

More proverbs from around the world:

  • A lover should be regarded as a person demented. (Roman)
  • Great politeness means “I want something.” (Chinese)
  • Large desire is endless poverty. (India)
  • A short rest is always good. (Danish)
  • A stumble is not a fall. (Haitian)
  • Abroad one has a hundred eyes, at home not one. (German)
  • The church is near, but the way is icy; the tavern is far, but I will walk carefully. (Ukrainian)
  • A bully is always a coward. (Spanish)
  • Failure is the source of success. (Japanese)
  • The greater part of humankind is bad. (Greek)
  • The inside is different from the outside. (Korean)
  • You are as many a person as languages you know. (Armenian)
  • By getting angry, you show you are wrong. (Madagascar)
  • Life is a road with a lot of signs. (Jamaican)
  • Old age does not announce itself. (Zulu)
  • Whether small or large, a snake cannot be used as a belt. (Yoruban)
  • He that is too smart is surely done for. (Yiddish)

The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance

Here’s an excerpt from Jude the Obscure:

Jude stood bending over the kettle, with his watch in his hand, timing the eggs, so that his back was turned to the little inner chamber where the children lay. A shriek from Sue suddenly caused him to start round. He saw that the door of the room, or rather closet — which had seemed to go heavily upon its hinges as she pushed it back — was open, and that Sue had sunk to the floor just within it. Hastening forward to pick her up he turned his eyes to the little bed spread on the boards; no children were there. He looked in bewilderment round the room. At the back of the door were fixed two hooks for hanging garments, and from these the forms of the two youngest children were suspended, by a piece of box-cord round each of their necks, while from a nail a few yards off the body of little Jude was hanging in a similar manner. An overturned chair was near the elder boy, and his glazed eyes were slanted into the room; but those of the girl and the baby boy were closed.

Suppose Hardy had added, “And this was all for the good, for there were too many children already.”

Many readers would feel their imaginative engagement with the narrative give out at this point. In reading fiction we seem to be quite willing to believe all manner of outlandish and unnatural things — magic, time travel, fantastic creatures — but when an author invites us to imagine a world in which the moral facts are different, we resist.

“Whatever speculative errors may be found in the polite writings of any age or country, they detract but little from the value of those compositions,” wrote David Hume in 1757. “There needs but a certain turn of thought or imagination to make us enter into all the opinions, which then prevailed, and relish the sentiments or conclusions derived from them. But a very violent effort is requisite to change our judgment of manners, and excite sentiments of approbation or blame, love or hatred, different from those to which the mind from long custom has been familiarized. And where a man is confident of the rectitude of that moral standard, by which he judges, he is justly jealous of it, and will not pervert the sentiments of his heart for a moment, in complaisance to any writer whatsoever.” Why is this?

(Stuart Brock, “The Puzzle of Imaginative Failure,” Philosophical Quarterly 62:248 [July 2012], 443-463.)

In a Word

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conticent
adj. keeping silence, silent

As a joke, Elbert Hubbard published an “Essay on Silence” that consisted of 12 blank pages, bound in brown suede and stamped with gold. It was advertised with these testimonials:

“Your elaborate work on ‘Silence’ received, and perused this day. The depth of your argument is perceptible from the start. The continued logic is convincing to the end, and makes its impression on the attentive mind. It is singular how much can be said in a limited space. You are certainly master of our language.” — G.E.Nelson

“Kindly accept my heartiest thanks for your little volume on ‘Silence.’ The subject is treated so exhaustively, and in such a quaintly original manner, that it is beyond the pale of criticism.” — Alex L. Pach

“Your valuable ‘Essay on Silence’ is a masterpiece, for it appeals to one in purity, like a cloudless sky. The language is grand as the voice of God; the story it tells is as deep in its meaning as that which is written on the pages of the book of Nature.” — Albert J. Atkins

“Your ‘Essay on Silence’ is all that the bills promised, and could not be more to the point. Thirty cents is exactly the right price.” — Alice L. LeCouver

“It is with great pleasure that I have looked into your ‘Essay on Silence.’ There is nothing in it to prevent its becoming a classic. No word has been wasted, and there is not one line that can be misunderstood. In the perusal of many writings, we realize that the same thought has been framed in our own minds without having been given an utterance; and so it is that this last work of yours has found me most sympathetic and appreciative, for in turning over your pages I am struck frequently with resemblances to my own mental condition. Your little book is simple, direct and convincing. I am reminded, in putting it down, of a certain passage in the biblical story, in which it is set forth that from nothing God made heaven and earth and all that therein is, consequently it is not surprising that you in this case have done so well.” — George W. Stevens