VICTORIAN GHOST STORIES

Editors, Cox & Gilbert

The Introduction of this book is the most entertaining section. The authors swoon about Victorian writers putting together hundreds of Ghost Stories. In Victorian England Christmas was a good time for ghost stories, an expectation Charles Dickens capitalized on with A Christmas Carole. The authors say there were strict formats that demanded quality writing. However, a reader’s experience differs. Some stories are chronological. Hence, write about one character, repeat the same traits and activities about the next. But for the activities of the third character, the author uses, “Meanwhile, this or that…” The thread of the story is lost, and the reader can guess which character – one, two or three – has or deserves the floor.

I stopped reading in A. Y. Akerman, The Miniature, when I stumbled into the following paragraph:

‘At the breakfast table I was moody and thoughtful, which my friend perceiving,
attempted a joke; but I was in no humour to receive it, when Maria, in a
compassionating tone, remarked I looked unwell, and that I should take a walk
or a ride before breakfast, adding that she and George S— had walked for an hour
or more in the plantation near the house. Though this announcement was certainly
but ill calculated to ease my mind, it was yet made with such an artless air, that my
more gloomy surmises vanished; and I rallied;…’

Being in a disagreeable mood at the breakfast table without humor and appearing unwell, one might disregard comments, but to reveal anything about all the persons at the table, tell what the joke was. Perhaps friends looking sickly in Victorian England were invited to walk or ride interrupting breakfast and avoiding whatever substance they could consume. Go outdoors and get pneumonia!

However, the character has no mind of his own. He thought of none of those remedies. Note this character appears whimsical and supercilious with no will or fortitude of his own:

Through his announcement was certainly but ill calculated to afford perfect ease
to my mind, it was yet made with such an artless air, that my more gloomy
surmises vanished, and I rallied;…

As far as the reader can tell, the author of the suggestion came to the table with hand fulls of uppers and passed them around. This character popped a couple and was set for the morning. Suspending disbelief which this paragraph requires, all readers can see it is variable and nonsense: Note, the character describes himself as “moody and thoughtful;” it becomes “unwell” and next in the character’s mind he is “gloomy.” Why does the author of this piece drop in adverbs, “but ill calculated” and “yet made.”

This is not acceptable writing in middle school. Writing must make sense – communicate clearly – to be good, solid and worthy.

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A PILE OF BOOKS

Having a neglected pile of books to read, I wondered how to get through them. Each appeared interesting. They came cheaply, purchased one at a time but most all at once. Libraries have shelves of donated books they want to pass on. Likewise there were grocery bags of books costing one dollar at the bag sales at library book sales – the first time in history books were cheaper than the shopping bags they were carried away in.

So how did each book of the pile read? Perhaps I was correct in stacking the books:

John LeCarre, A Small Town in Germany. At the beginning he insists on long descriptions of the town. How does the scenery advance the espionage story?

2. John Dos Passos, Big Money. The author tried to tell how people made their way in careers in an advancing economy while presenting the worst dialogue – non-directional, cumbersome and unrelated to the story. I give it 170 pages.

3. Anson’s Voyage Around the World 1740-1744. The Introduction was of interest, filled with appalling facts: Ships left England with mostly old men who were sick. About 950 mens set off from England and by the South Atlantic 370 men were left. Not all of the 370 were fit for duty aboard the ships. However, the diary is written in an eighteenth century fashion by more than one author, each writing formally and stiltedly.
I’ve read of similar journeys. I don’t have to struggle through Anson’s. I passed on the diary.

4. Thurber and White, Is Sex Necessary? This text was likely enlivening in 1929. Now it is dated.

5. George Kennen, The Decline of Bismarck’s European Order and The Fateful Alliance. Each book appeared unread when purchased. I’ve read about each subject in excellent academic produced histories. How did old George do? He is pompous and verbose. His English is truly bloated. Sentences are unnecessarily long and convoluted.

6. Norman Thrower, Maps and Civilization. This is another academic book written in the vernacular of its subject matter. Small print. It appeared involved and complicated, requiring looking up words in dictionaries. Disclosures about maps and civilization shall remain hidden.

7. H.G. Wells, Journalism and Prophecy, is disappointing. I am not fan of the author’s science fiction work. I do not hold him in awe. Meetings with Hitler, Stalin and Lenin reveal H.G. Wells was completely uninformed and ignorant. In articles that should be written as essays, H.G. writes in the narrative. It is the best illustration about the folly and fallaciousness in the use of the pronoun, I – except for the Tweeting I abilities of Don Trump.

8. Chapelle, The American Sailing Navy, describes sailing ships used in eighteenth century wars and commerce. There is much about ship and sail design and the history of ships. There is little about the functional fighting qualities of each ship. I gave the book about 320 pages. From the number of American ships captured or sunk, i am surprised there was any early Navy at all!
Unless one is intensely interested in sailing ships and their design and builders – minute and large changes – this is not a book for the average reader.

9. Tate, Stonewall Jackson. This appears one of the lovingly biographies written by a Southerner during the 1920s. It is about a revered Southern Civil War general. Every word is a compliment. I recognized it as such and passed.

10. Leonard Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, a small print book telling of the establishment of the Mormon Church in and around Utah. It looked unopened and unread when I picked it up. Perhaps I am lazy, wanting nothing physically challenging to read. The small print covering the pages was daunting. I put it down.

LEONARDO

By Serge Bramly

This readable biography of Leonardo is revealing. It doesn’t completely endorse the fifteenth century genius. If the writing stumbles it is because the subject matter, Leonardo di Vinci is imperfect. It is remarkable how few finished productions Leonardo had and have survived; count the paintings on hands and toes. The product of one of the best of those, The Last Supper, can only be guessed at. It started to deteriorate almost immediately; no one paid much attention to it. It was neglected and abused for centuries and almost bombed out of existence during World War Two. And did Leonardo ever complete the face of Judas and the countenance of Jesus Christ? It is likely an enterprising student or artist stepped into to finish those portions of the work.

A problem was Leonard did not know when a production of his was finished. There are general discussions of art in the book, but most artists know to finish, to complete, to rid the mind of effort and work. That vacancy in the mind is welcome and a relief. There are drawings of the Sforza Monument, a horseman in bronze to be placed in Milan. But Leonardo did not know how to cast a rearing horse with a rider; years passed and he never started the work. It was abandoned. Meeting Michelangelo in Florence Leonardo was confronted by his own inability to conceptualize and complete that horsey work [as well as drawings of many other incomplete works].

What Leonardo painted, he painted well, but he is one of many painters from 1480-1520 who painted well. The painting of Jesus Christ recently sold at auction is not as detailed, studied and finely finished as Albrecht Duerer’s 1500 self-portrait, the artist as Jesus Christ.

Leonardo’s work is mostly notebooks and fragments thereof, where there are drawings, sketches and imagines of things and thoughts about other things. The biographer notes there are other artists, engineers and diarists who imagined flying machines and armaments, but there is no grand discussion or comparison of those images from multiple sources. Some of Leonardo’s notations are alchemy; he visualizes plastics but does not start with petroleum. He makes scanty astronomical notations, but they may be more astrological in nature – the biography does not go into detail.

Leonardo was interested in dissecting bodies but not to produce a systematic study leading to medical advancement. He was aware of the process of human originality and creation to produce art, but imperfectly applied it to himself. He seemed unaware of human psychology.

Fellow artists saw his finished works, plus cartoons prepared for painted works and some drawings. Most artists were impressed with the drafts. But there is not a line of influence: Leonardo produced this, and ten years later Michelangelo and Raphael produced these. Too many persons influenced artists plus the egos and experiences of painters, sculptures and architects. Those individuals advanced concepts and presentations of art.

And what of Leonardo? His influence is historical. He did not share or publish many of his notebooks (codices) during his lifetime. During the 1570s visitors were invited to take what they wanted. His peers and contemporaries did not see the bulk of his work and inventiveness, and like today, as scattered as these works are, Leonardo’s influence is difficult to access.

The biography is favorable to the man, but his shortcomings are almost debilitating and incomprehensible. This biography attempts to be truthful and honest – describe the whole man and his creations without resort to much artistic mist and mystification.