A while ago I read a biography of the fourteenth century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer but until recently I’d somehow never read his “Canterbury Tales”. Considering what a compulsive bookworm I’ve always been, that’s quite a major shock. Recently I was looking through the book case downstairs in the den and I noticed that there was a copy of his famous classic narrative poem in standard English so I’ve begun reading it. So far I’m up to the Reeve’s Tale. Often, while reading for a long time, I become unavoidably distracted and my mind wanders. While reading the poem, I somehow spontaneously started thinking back to an incident involving my old friend Jimmy, when we were kids in our early teens. One day Jimmy and I had nothing better to do so in order to avoid boredom he started cracking corn. He never asked me to help him but, conveniently, I didn’t care. Often, if I let my guard down while reading, I start humming an old song or two. Last night I couldn’t help humming the Beatles’ classic, “Do You Want to Know A Secret?” My impatience gets me crazy like that but at least I always keep on trying to apply myself as conscientiously as possible to any task. Once I’ve set my mind to something I’m quite the determined character.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been quite a compulsive bookworm. There’s never been a time when I’ve gone for a significant period without reading something of at least some significance. I have quite an interest in classic western literature. Currently I’m reading both Jane Austen’s novel “Sense and Sensibility” and Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie”. Unfortunately I’ve been a bit lazy about them. Having gone on quite a streak with both for a long while, I somehow stopped reading them a few weeks ago. I have no idea why. It’s most certainly not because I haven’t been bothering to read anything. Over the course of that time I’ve been reading periodicals and all sorts of little things. Perhaps it’s because both those literary works subject my eyes to such an ominous chore but I simply haven’t yet gone back to either of them. I’m now reading both online and they’re so long and difficult. Unfortunately when this happens I sometimes don’t even bother to end up finishing what I’ve been reading. Impatience has always been quite an exceptionally bad problem for me. I intend to continue with them though. I’ve already read “Sense and Sensibility” a few times anyway. Throughout my lifetime I shall always read constantly. As with everything else I do, though, there will be rough spots.
I’d say that I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction about the same, though for different reasons. Right now I’m reading Longfellow’s poem, “Evangeline” and Jane Austen’s novel, “Sense and Sensibility”. I’m also reading “The Story Of A Soul” by St. Therese of Lisieux. I’ve always been interested in novels and poems because they allow me to travel to other places and time frames. I can permit my imagination to get entirely out of control. A well written novel or poem also can teach interesting lessons about human nature. Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” are exceptionally good examples of this. One problem with Dostoyevsky, though, is that he tends to be exceptionally didactic. Reading something of his always makes me feel as if it’s written in the form of a thinly disguised theology and philosophy lecture.I’ve always enjoyed seeing how many different symbols I can see in various works of literature. Two of the most famous examples of symbolism in classic western literature are a bookworm character, who reads a story within the story, a convention begun by Cervantes in “Don Quijote”, and travel, begun by St. Augustine of Hippo in his “Confessions”. Among works of non-fiction, I especially enjoy biographies, and classic works of theology and philosophy. By now I’ve read very many biographies of a wide variety of famous people, including writers, politicians, musicians and saints. Although I only have thirteen credits in philosophy, and no college credits in theology, I’ve always had quite a voracious interest in those fields. As a lay Carmelite I’ve read all the Carmelite classics I’ve been able to find. Since I really like to get involved in a good debate about the culture war, reading these kinds of things keeps me well informed.
If I could have a lot of time available to visit my collection of reading material, and to pick one book which I should absolutely have to read before all the others, it would be quite a very difficult decision. I always seem to wander back to Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”, Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, as well as a few others. Perhaps I should choose “Brideshead Revisited”. It opens in 1922 and tells the tale of the Flyte, an aristocratic English Catholic family. It begins with Charles as a new freshman at Oxford with all his eccentric friends. The novel then goes on to relate the story of all the dysfunctional relationships, both familial and marital, that exist within the family or Lord and Lady Marchmain. It tackles intensely serious problems in a somewhat seemingly lighthearted manner. Everyone in the story is deeply morally flawed, especially those characters who are the most significantly aligned with the Faith. As in real life, the novel shows beauty as well as ugliness and sorrow. There are all kinds of reaction to the Faith, from the agnostic narrator Charles to the devout Lady Marchmain; Lord Marchmain, who grudgingly became Catholic in order to marry her; and the hopelessly befuddled Protestant Rex Mottram, Julia’s husband. Rex and Julia want to marry, but he’s Protestant, has had an affair and has already been married. The scene relates a serious problem in a seemingly relatively lighthearted way. Unlike the intense style of Dostoyevsky, Waugh depicts such dilemmas with wit and makes his characters appear even a bit toward the silly side. Considering what a profound and significant topic the book deals with it takes quite a humorous approach to things. Catholicism is ultimately exactly like that anyway, with dimensions that appear a bit Mother Goose-ish but that are ultimately about very hard facts. The novel deals with all dimensions of society, including fear and resentment of the other, class consciousness and mankind’s ultimate end.
I’ve always been quite a literary snob. Although I realize that every pop cultural figure, ranging from Joan Collins’s sister Jackie to Suzanne Sommers, and people from the casts of television shows like “Friends”, thinks he’s a writer, I inevitably restrict my reading material to the works of people like Dostoyevsky and Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, and all the other highbrow literary figures. Were I ever confronted with a literary fairy, who could give me the ability to become either an obscure novelist, whose work would be admired and studied by a small cult following for generations yet to come, or a popular paperback author whose works could provide immediate enjoyment to millions in the short term, I should choose to be a serious author. There’s nothing wrong with writing harmless fluff with no literary merit. I’ve simply always admired important literature and wished that I were capable of writing something truly profound and noteworthy. I don’t like having to be bothered with keeping up with trends, though several trends, throughout the past few generations, have most certainly caught my attention quite favorably. Great literature, like all the other disciplines in the humanities department, deals with human nature and a good author has to have the ability to have a lot of insight into history, psychology, philosophy and all other disciplines. If I were ever lucky enough to be a serious writer, I should make sure I should steer clear of all liberal ideas. Story telling is extremely important and the conservative voice has to be heard. That’s why I’ve always liked both music and literature. Politics, history, economics and other disciplines have their place in society but people tend to be more prone toward accepting ideas by way of the narrative approach rather than didactic. I should think that maybe I could be a serious intelligent alternative to the kind of pablum that comes from writers like J. K. Rowling. Even if my work would be admired and studied by only few people, as the object of a cult following, I should be quite happy with that, as long as I could write exceptionally good literature. That would be especially appropriate for someone like me, considering that I’ve always been quite a distinctive character who can be counted on to appeal only to people with seriously offbeat tastes and ideas anyway. I’ve always enjoyed Emily Dickinson’s idea, that one should “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Symbolism, an important ingredient in all literature, plays quite an exceptionally large role in my world. Since I’ve never felt particularly comfortable in the company of strangers, I should have to be the kind of writer who would remain aloof from his readership. Frequent interviews and constant attention would be quite a burden for me to have to contend with. If anyone is interested in finding out about the other worlds that come from my imagination, though, he’d better most certainly beware of all the twists and turns they contain. Some of them can be awfully seriously disturbing.
If I could have my choice of three works of fiction in which I should be able to participate, I should most certainly have to pick the late 1960’s movie, “Hello Dolly”, with Walter Matthau, Barbra Streisand and Michael Crawford, as one of them. Ever since I was a kid in St. Gabriel’s, where the De La Salle Christian Brothers, in the glee club, kept us singing show tunes, I’ve always enjoyed this classic musical. It’s about the adventures of Dolly Levi, a middle aged matchmaking widow in turn of the twentieth century New York CIty. Besides Dolly’s romance with Horace Vandergelder, there are several other dalliances that transpire within the story. The last time I watched it I was quite especially favorably impressed with all the costumes and music. The distinctive suits, hats, dresses and parasols, were perfect. I’ve always really wanted to see what that kind of spectacle must be like in person. The clothing, speech and customs of that era, as depicted in the movie, are enough to catch anyone’s attention. Another story in which I should really like to partake is “Don Quijote (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha)”, the picaresque novel by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra. It’s from Spain’s Golden Age in the early seventeenth century. In the book, a middle aged hidalgo, Alonso Quijano, after having read too many chivalric novels, thereby distorting his perception of reality, sets out to reinstate the era of chivalry. Throughout the story he and his sidekick Sancho Panza, a simple farmer, get into a series of misadventures stemming from the benighted Don’s inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Aldonza Lorenzo, a local homely farm girl, is his lady love. She’s somewhat reminiscent of Petrarch’s Laura and Dante’s Beatrice. The tale is filled with all sorts of insights into theology, philosophy, literature and history. I should really like to get involved in it because of all the offbeat adventures of the Don and Sancho and because of all the things I could learn about life during one of mankind’s most interesting historical epochs. I should get quite a kick out of watching our protagonist constantly confusing the most ordinary everyday people, places and occurrences with profoundly significant realities. The story is a major lesson about reality and mankind’s relationship to his world and surroundings. Another story I should like to visit would be Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”. I’ve always really enjoyed the tales of life in a distorted world where animals, plants and inanimate objects are personified, logic is incessantly convoluted and imagination reigns supreme at all times. I could have a chance to meet the Mad Hatter, the Walrus, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat and all the other characters that make Wonderland such a distinctive environment. Life in Wonderland shares with Don Quijote the fact that nothing ever matches up to what anyone would normally expect based on an even somewhat legitimate standard of logical consistency.
“Athanasius and Delilah were king and queen of ancient Mixolydia around 4,000 B.C.,” the tour guide exclaimed as Mimi and Richard gave him their undivided attention. He went on to describe all the famous long-ago pair’s exploits that rivaled those of Antony and Cleopatra, as well as other ancient couples. “No one even remembers them today,” he continued. Having majored in literature in college, Richard couldn’t help comparing the couple to Ozymandias, the subject of Shelley’s famous Romantic sonnet. “Tempus fugit, memento mori”, Mimi gasped, a resigned expression on her face.
“Athanasius” comes from the ancient Greek for Immortal and “Delilah” means dark or night. Mixolydia is a country in the ancient world now referred to only in musical circles. “Tempus fugit, memento mori” means “Time flies, remember death” an old line from Vergil. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/238972 Mimi and Richard are Joan Baez’ sister and her husband.
I have no idea of which work of art could possibly turn out to be my very favorite but I’ve always really liked Edouard Manet’s “Music In the Tuileries Gardens”. The original is in the National Gallery in London. One day recently I happened to have been walking past a copy of it and something awfully seriously odd happened.
It’s an Impressionist painting set in 1862, about a decade before the beginning of La Belle Epoque, in the French Tuileries Gardens, between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde. Concerts were performed there twice each week and were frequented by the fashionable elite of the Second Empire.
As I passed it by, my attention was quite struck by how unusually real it suddenly seemed. I walked a little closer and was instantaneously a part of it. Somehow I understood the people even though all spoke only French and no English. Manet and his slightly younger brother Eugene introduced themselves. Then I met Charles Beaudelaire. Along with Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, he wrote some of nineteenth century France’s most intense poetry. Novelist and poet Theophile Gautier, along with flower-painter Ignace Fantine-Latour and composer Jacques Offenbach were also there as well as several other Frenchmen who were then prominent in the world of the arts.
Although I’ve read several of Rimbaud’s poems, I’ve never been significantly familiar with his work. I’m only vaguely knowledgeable about some of Manet’s paintings too. Besides that I’ve never known anything whatsoever about any of the others. This was quite a chance for me to expand significantly my literary and artistic horizons.
They explained to me that The Tuileries Gardens had been created for Catherine de Medici who, after the death of France’s King Henry II, wanted to move her home to the Louvre Palace. The Gardens were opened to the public in 1667 and became a public park after the French Revolution. As everyone knows I’ve always been quite a bookworm. Since I’ve always been quite been interested in history and the arts, I couldn’t help being entirely mesmerized, though equally stunned, by my experience. Throughout it all, though, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat uncomfortable. It occurred to me that someone might ask a few questions about the outsider. This wasn’t exactly New York in 2014 and I couldn’t expect to blend in.
I made sure I gave them my absolutely undivided attention in order to ensure that I could get as much out of the experience as possible. There were people there of all age ranges and both sexes. I learned a lot that day about all the styles, habits and mannerisms that characterized that segment of French society in the early 1860’s. Unfortunately I didn’t have my video camera with me. Imagine how interesting that would have been.