Don Quixote’s Midpoint

Approaching the end of “The First Part” of Don Quixote; the reading of the two interpolated novels and real-time accumulation of characters at the inn has been more laboured than the preceding chapters. How many ever-more-beautiful-than-the last noble women are to show up, in mysterious circumstances? It is salutary to read The Modern Word’s review and know that in the “The Second Part” the book gets back to Don Quixote and Sancha Panza.

Glen Duncan

I’m surprised that Glen Duncan’s fiction isn’t better known. With the exception of his last book I have read each of Glen Duncan’s eight books. Each book has its flaws but also contains moments of exquisiteness.

The most accomplished of the eight is The Bloodstone Papers, with its study of a father-son relationship and evocation of 1940s India. It is here I would recommend dipping into Duncan’s oeuvre. To whet your appetite here is one of several excerpts I recorded into my commonplace book:

Stairs, handrails, newels, benches, trestles, desks, kneelers, sills – Jesus and Mary Convent School has been Kate’s introduction to things with a sad history of touch. The pathos of these objects is that they stay and you leave. Every girls’ palms and fingertips and feet and knees, intimacy – then gone. You can feel sorry for a coat-hook, a doorknob, a bowl, a chair. When you sit on the stairs alone with your arms around your shins and your palms or calves on fire from the cane, the dark wood offers you its inarticulate sympathy, a moment you take, consume and forget but which it absorbs and will remember, uselessly, for ever. Some future girl will sit here and feel the same sympathy, years from now. You’ll be a part of it, but she won’t know and neither will you. That’s the objects’ sadness, that they connect the private moments of people who will always remain strangers.

The Bloodstone Papers, though moving, is an atypical Glen Duncan book. His fiction is powerfully dark, with flashes of humour. If exploring Duncan’s dark-side is more appealing Love Remains explores sexual violence and guilt. It is also very, very good.

Kipling’s Dream Home

Once a year we stay in an historic building, somewhere in the UK, as clients of The Landmark Trust. We’ve stayed in former pigsties and libraries, towers, wooden cabins, castles and gatehouses. Top of my wish list is Naulakha, Kipling’s former home in Vermont:

In 1892, Rudyard Kipling and his new American bride bought 12 acres on a Vermont hillside while on their around-the-world honeymoon. By year’s end they had begun construction of their dream home which overlooked the Connecticut River Valley.

Christened Naulakha, a Hindi word meaning “jewel beyond price,” this home was designed by Kipling to resemble a ship with his study in the prow. Here Kipling wrote the Jungle Books and Captains Courageous and began Kim and the Just So Stories. In the meadow Kipling introduced skiing to Vermont on skis that were a gift from Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

In the Gloom the Gold

An excerpt from a Lapham’s Quarterly piece on Ezra Pound:

Everybody knows the story. Pound launched the Imagist movement, epitomized by that hardy perennial of poetry anthologies, “In a Station of the Metro” (in full: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/Petals on a wet, black bough”), and then played a decisive role in shaping T. S. Eliot’s epochal masterpiece The Waste Land. He devoted the rest of his life to composing The Cantos, a vast, unreadable epic left unfinished at his death in 1972. The story ends badly: he went off the rails during the war years, embracing fascism and anti-Semitism in broadcasts for Mussolini that got him arrested for treason, and was eventually committed to a mental hospital.

As conventional wisdom goes, the standard skinny on Pound is no worse than most. True to the genre it lacks nuance, emphasizing controversy over substance, but it isn’t actually wrong about anything—except the work. Pound’s Imagist poetry was revolutionary but by no means the best even of his early compositions, and The Cantos are called unreadable by the same people who call Tristram Shandy and Ulysses unreadable, those who haven’t read them. Many of the cantos are as deeply felt and exquisitely rendered as any verse in English. No poet has ever been so influential, so controversial, and so little read.