Thursday, February 19, 2009

Word of the day: resistentialism

Essayist Gail Hamilton (née Mary Abigail Dodge, 1833–1896) is largely unknown today and has probably never come up before in my RSS feeds for news about North Shore authors. So I was surprised to see her referenced in a recent post on Words, Words, Words (and Phrases) about the word resistentialism.
Resistentialism is a jocular theory in which inanimate objects display hostile desires towards human beings. —Wikipedia

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell Hamilton only used "the total depravity of inanimate things" as an epigram (I can only find it as a Wikiquote, no mention of what book) after reading the essay of the same name by Katherine Kent Child Walker in the September 1864 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Walker writes:
I believe in the total depravity of inanimate things... the elusiveness of soap, the knottiness of strings, the transitory nature of buttons, the inclination of suspenders to twist and of hooks to forsake their lawful eyes, and cleave only unto the hairs of their hapless owner's head.
L. M. Montgomery uses the phrase again fifty years later in Anne of the Island from 1915.
"It is when my umbrella turns inside out that I am convinced of the total depravity of inanimate things," she said gaily.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lunch break reading: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another gothic short story, this week by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Rappaccini's Daughter (full text on a single page) was written in 1844 when the Hawthorne family was living in Concord. It was published in the 1846 volume Mosses from an Old Manse.

A mad botanist, his poisonous hothouse flower of a daughter, and her smitten suitor do battle in this tale set in Padua, Italy, in some distant past. As he wrote in the preface to his 1860 novel The Marble Faun, also set in Italy, "actualities would not be so insisted on, as they are, and must needs be, in America." The romantic and only somewhat authentic setting freed him from the confines of realism.

For similar themes, try the political drama The Mudra-Rakshasa (The Minister's Signet) by ninth-century Indian poet Vishakadatta or the 1622 philosophical text The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton. Poet Octavio Paz translated Hawthorne's story as La Hija de Rappaccini in his only play, first produced in 1956; Mexican composer Daniel Catán transformed Paz's work into an opera in 1994.

Less highbrow homages include the recent Marvel Comics villian Monica Rappaccini, who studied biochemistry at the University of Padua before becoming an environmental terrorist who uses her own poison-suffused daughter as a biological weapon. Monica first appeared in a 2005 issue of Amazing Fantasy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Elaine Showalter's "A Jury of Her Peers"

A few North Shore literary figures show up in Elaine Showalter's recent history of American women of letters, A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx.

This L.A. Times review by Susan Salter Reynolds mentions Bradstreet:
"The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America" is a collection of poems describing the difficulties and joys of being a settler, wife and mother. It was published in London and required no fewer than 11 testimonials by male friends, family and critics to convince the publisher that it was indeed written by a woman and worthy of publication.
Harriet Beecher Stowe is quoted:
Nothing but deadly determination enables me to ever write—it is rowing against wind and tide.
As is Nathaniel Hawthorne (whose least flattering anecdotes make him sound like a prickly chauvinist):
Ink-stained women are, without a single exception, detestable.
The book comes out in late February. Looking forward to it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

“Dearest Dove: The Courtship of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne”

Literary lovers can celebrate Valentine's Day at the House of the Seven Gables with theater, a cappella, and a string quartet. Marblehead's Anne Lucas performs her specially commissioned piece, “Dearest Dove: The Courtship of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne,” based on the couple's love letters. A cappella group The Noteworthies from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Salem High School's string ensemble The Quintessential Quartet follow.

Saturday, February 14, 5-7 pm
House of the Seven Gables, Derby Street, Salem
Tickets $15 members, $20 nonmembers
Call Heidi Webb at 978-744-0991, ext. 104, for tickets.
More details at the Salem Gazette's event calendar

Sophia's portrait from the House of the Seven Gables.
Nathaniel's portrait from the Peabody Essex Museum.

Powow River Poets moving to Jabberwocky

Not even published and already the book needs an update... The Newburyport Daily News reports that the Powow River Poets are moving from Wednesday nights at the Newburyport Art Association to Saturday mornings at the Jabberwocky Bookshop.
The readings will go from monthly to bimonthly at Jabberwocky, with the first one planned for Saturday, March 14, at 3 p.m. and featuring a national magazine editor as one of the readers.

But before that, the Powow River Poets say goodbye to the art association with the help of featured readers Jennifer Rose and David Davis on Wednesday, Feb. 18. The reading starts at 7:30 p.m. in the art association's galleries at 65 Water St. in downtown Newburyport.
More info about the February 18 reading at the Newburyport Art Association. No info about the March 14 reading yet at Jabberwocky's site.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Katherine Howe on BBC World Service

Marblehead's Katherine Howe, author of the forthcoming The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (as well as frequent dinner companion and excellent party hostess), discussed Salem witchcraft on BBC's The Strand yesterday.

From an advance reviewer's appraisal of the book, which will be published by Hyperion imprint Voice in June 2009:
Connie Goodwin, a PhD candidate at Harvard, has her dissertation research derailed by an odd request from her eccentric mother. At her mother’s behest she spends the summer in Marblehead, Mass., attempting to resuscitate her grandmother’s vacant home into salable condition. In doing so she uncovers a new line of inquiry into a dark chapter of the colony’s history, the hysteria which produced the Salem witch trials. An antique key leads her on a path of discovery, unlocking the secrets of the true nature of witchcraft, which may not have been eradicated by the trials after all. In the first chapter Connie survives her own trial by fire: her oral exam for admittance to the PhD program. By the book’s end she faces another sort of trial, and her acceptance into an even more exclusive apprenticeship depends upon her survival. As Howe’s proxy discovers more about the mysterious practice of witchcraft it becomes apparent that Howe knows a thing or two about the practice of wordcraft.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Updike remembered and re-evaluated

Since John Updike's death on January 27, tributes and reflections have come from every corner. Garrison Keillor in Salon muses,
The giants fall and we leave them behind but who is left to bless us? Nobody. As long as John was in the world, you could imagine him calling up one morning and saying, "That was good. I liked that." And now the phone is dead.
The L.A. Times looks back on Updike's divisive literary reputation. (And quotes Salman Rushdie: "He should stay in his parochial neighborhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do.")

Gawker, in typical fashion, followed up a brief and straightforward obit with juicier gossip, excerpts from author Roger Warner's recap of the funeral and the ex-lovers in attendance.
In Essex County, MA, some women in their 70s pretend they weren’t part of the Couples scene, while others who weren’t part of it wished they had been, because their lives have been so uneventful.
(My favorite part of Warner's article is the generalizing about the North Shore that follows in the comments. And the grammar lesson hidden in this insight: "He sure wrote good books but it’s sad how he runt his marriage." Runt, pronounced roont, the past tense of ruin.)

Even my hometown newspaper, The Morning Call, where high school football scores and crotchety "get off my lawn" editorials weigh heavier than cultural matters, gets in on the action. Now that both writers are gone, they've started the debate on who captured regional Pennsylvania more accurately, Updike, who fictionalized his native Reading and Shillington, or John O'Hara, who set some of his work in Pottsville and Schuylkill County. As of Tuesday, the reader's poll had Updike winning the authenticity race at 75% of a whopping 4 votes.

Updike was on the Charlie Rose show about thirty-eight times, if YouTube's collection is any evidence. Here's a two-minute clip from a 1997 show where Updike talks about killing off his canonical character, Rabbit Angstrom, in the final book of the Rabbit series, 1996's Rabbit at Rest.

There are a number of other clips on the Charlie Rose site.

Rose has dedicated two episodes to appreciations of Updike's life and work since he died. Sam Tanenhaus, David Remnick, and Judith Jones appeared on January 29. And Adam Gopnik (author of Paris to the Moon, among others) appeared on Feburary 4.

If you haven't read any of Updike's work (and honestly—I'm in my early 30s, not many of my peers have read him if he wasn't on a syllabus), Amazon has used copies of most of his novels, or try Bookmooch if you want to trade in your O'Hara for the Rabbit tetralogy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

William Lloyd Garrison cabinet photo

In the market for William Lloyd Garrison's autograph? Lot 209 at Live Auctioneers is a 1867 cabinet photo of the Newburyport abolitionist. Starting bid is $150—the hammer drops at 10 am on February 28.

Lunch break reading: Harriet Prescott Spofford

The Moonstone Mass (PDF) by Harriet Prescott Spofford, via Horror Masters (a definite nod to Spofford's reputation as a master of the gothic and the ghost story).

Originally published in Harper's Magazine in October 1868, "The Moonstone Mass" is the tale of a man who sets sail for the Northwest Passage but is shipwrecked on the Arctic ice. A miserly uncle, a waiting fiancée, and cache of jewels are among the cast of characters. The story is also in the 1989 collection The Amber Gods and Other Stories, edited by Alfred Bendixen.

The story was written at the same time that artists and explorers were beginning to bring tales of the Arctic back to eager audiences. The chill of Spofford's story goes well with To the Ends of the Earth, Painting the Polar Landscape, on view until March 1 at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum. Spofford may have been influenced by some of these very views as she imagined the icy landscape in which her protagonist is stranded.

Aurora Borealis, 1865, Frederic Edwin Church, 56 x 83½ inches, oil on canvas,
Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Eleanor Blodgett

Monday, February 9, 2009

Podcast: The Garden of Last Days

From last summer, here's a 25-minute podcast of Andre Dubus III reading from and discussing The Garden of Last Daysat Denver's The Tattered Cover bookstore.
(Photo by Christine McGarry)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ashely Bowen tabletop design

Phyllis Tracy and Susan Newberg, proprietors of the decoupage-plate-making studio NEptune-1, debut a series of ceramics decorated with images by 18th-century Marblehead seafarer Ashely Bowen, the first American sailor to write an autobiography.

The Seagull Gift Shop will be the first space to introduce the Ashley Bowen journal series of images taken from Bowen’s sketches made in pen and colored ink. Bowen sketched the first image of Marblehead Harbor, according to Tracy and Newberg, who plan to incorporate Bowen’s scripture on the glass plates.

“His illustrations are beautiful, but are sitting in the Museum’s archives,” says Tracy. “They [the Museum] can’t have people touching and feeling them, or they’ll disintegrate.”

The Seagull is hosting an open house on Sunday, February 8, from 4 to 7 pm.

Read more about NEptune-1 (the name is taken from Marblehead's old telephone exchange) and their Jeremiah Lee Mansion series at the Milford Daily News.

Read more about Ashely Bowen in his recently published journals, edited by Daniel Vickers.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Art and antiques at the Beverly Farms Branch Library

Photographer (and occasional colleague) Glenn Scott and mixed-media artist Sheila Boss-Concannon have work on display at the Conrad Lecture Hall on the lower level of the Beverly Farms Branch Library.

While you're there, check out Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.'s roll-top desk and chair, upstairs in the library's original wing. The Holmes family had a summer home nearby at 868 Hale Street, pictured here in a photograph from the Beverly Postcard Collection, and the poet's son, the famed Supreme Court Justice, donated the desk in his father's honor.

The summer home of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Associate Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 868 Hale Street, Beverly Farms. Mocking Manchester residents who referred to their town as "Manchester-by-the-Sea," Holmes had his stationary printed with the return address "Beverly-by-the-Depot." The home is now privately owned.