19th-Century Plowman Cults, Meeting Flannery O’Connor, and an Inmate Reviews the Classics


Bradley Birzer remembers the death of his daughter: “Eleven years ago today, my daughter, Cecilia Rose Birzer, strangled on her own umbilical cord. That which had nourished her for nine months killed her just two days past her due date. On August 6, 2007, she came to term. Very early on August 8, my wife felt a terrible jolt in her belly and then nothing. Surely this, we hoped, was Cecilia telling us she was ready.” After you’ve read the whole thing, listen to Dana Gioia read “Majority” about the passing of his son.

Priscilla M. Jensen writes about the day she met Flannery O’Connor: “There was a round of introductions and the lavish experience of being offered cocola for the second time in the same day. And allowed to say yes, thank you, we would like some. It was such a heady experience that when my younger sister spilled hers I indulged in a superior expression, which lasted until I caught my hostess’s eye. Or she caught mine, considering me with the even and unsparing gaze of those Byzantine angels with the eyes on their wings. I lowered mine and joined the other children outside.”

Muriel Spark’s 1962 play Doctors of Philosophy was panned by critics, but it’s getting another chance to impress at an international book festival in Scotland: “There will be a complete rehearsed read-through at the international book festival this month, directed by Marilyn Imrie. If all goes well, that will be followed by a full production at the Lyceum. David Greig, the playwright and artistic director of the theatre, shares none of the early critics’ disappointment. He came to the play without expectations, after Willy Maley, professor of English at Glasgow University, sent him a copy. ‘I didn’t have much hope for it,’ says Greig, ‘but within four or five lines, I was laughing out loud. It starts as an almost Wildean thing and then suddenly it takes an unexpectedly Pirandello-esque turn. Sentence after sentence is perfectly weighted. And I thought, “These sentences need to be heard on the stage.”’”

“Nowadays, male self-improvement is all the rage and men are now almost as boring about their appearance as women.” So says Lara Prendergast. Boring is right. Listen, if you’re a man who isn’t a professional athlete, there are only a few acceptable reasons to go to the gym: a.) to keep yourself alive until you’ve paid off the house and put the kids through college, b.) to hang out with your friends on the basketball court, or c.) to taste death.

The New York Times re-publishes pitch-perfect, 100-year-old reviews of classics by an inmate of the Sing Sing prison. Here he is on Tristram Shandy: “Trifle too much padding in this and too much beating around the bush, but in spite of that this Tristram’s uncle and father are the gamest pair of argufiers that ever came down the highway. You’ve got to read it twice to get to the kernel, but it’s worth it.”

How do you control horses with magic? First, you gotta find a toad. Amelia Soth writes about 19th-century plowman cults.

Essay of the Day:

Marianna Hunt visits the moors of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights:

“Two hundred years ago today in a village in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Britain’s most famous literary family gained an extra member. That child’s name was Emily Brontë.

“Apart from her only novel, Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë left us with little else after her death. Famous for her love of solitude and of the wild moors where she spent most of her time, Emily’s personal life remains tantalisingly enigmatic. And yet her evocative descriptions, her warts and all portrayal of human emotion, won her the loyalty of generations of fans.

“The bleakly beautiful Yorkshire landscape where Emily was born and bred leaves an indelible mark on every page of Wuthering Heights. No mere background, it is an active presence with a force of its own, as captivating as any of the book’s characters.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Lake Misurina

Poem: Dan Campion, “Wolfe at Rest”

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