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Showing posts from January, 2009

Reading Journal: "The Young Pretenders"

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Edith Henrietta Fowler, The Young Pretenders. London: Persephone Books, 2007. Originally published in 1895.

Edith Henrietta Fowler

The Victorian era is often credited with the discovery of childhood. When Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, thousands of children were working in mills, mines and factories in both Great Britain and the United States. In Britain, efforts had already begun to regulate child labor in textile mills. In 1840, a parliamentary commission on children's employment began to study the conditions of child labor in mines and factories in England. One of the places investigated was Wolverhampton, a center of the iron industry in Staffordshire. The commission found deplorable conditions in Wolverhampton and nearby Willenhall—disease, maltreatment, and ignorance were rampant among children who worked as assistants in iron foundries or spent twelve hours a day filing keys for locksmiths.

The commission's detailed report on Willenhall came into the hands …

Walter Savage Landor

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Today is the birthday of British poet Walter Savage Landor, who was born in Warwick, England, on January 30, 1775. At left is a photograph of his birthplace on Smith Street in Warwick, just outside the medieval Eastgate of the city. I took the photograph on a walk to Warwick in March 2007. Landor House, with its blue door, is now the home of the King's High School for Girls.

Landor's father was a physician, and sent his son off to receive his education at nearby Rugby. Unfortunately, headstrong young Walter quarreled with the headmaster and was expelled. Later, he was also expelled from Trinity College, Oxford, after an incident in which he fired a gun at the window of a house where an irritating fellow student was entertaining guests.

For many years after that incident, Landor led an unsettled life. One constant was his love for Latin, and in particular, Latin poetry. It was a love he shared with Dr. Samuel Parr, perpetual curate of the little church in Hatton, a short …

Northfield.Org Internship

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Amy Sack

It's been my great privilege this month to work with Amy Sack, a senior at St. Olaf College, who has been serving as a student intern at Northfield.org during the college's January interim. Amy has researched and written three excellent stories for Northfield.org, and will be contributing one more story before she has to return to her classes at St. Olaf. I've served as editor and publisher, editing and proofreading her stories, then formatting them for the website and publishing them. Amy has produced a set of outstanding stories. She's a careful researcher, she checks and double checks her facts, and she tells a good story.

Amy's first story was an interview with Mary Rossing, Northfield's new mayor. Her second story was about the programs offered by the Northfield Public Library, and the impact of the declining economy on those programs. Her third story, which I published last night, is on the Northfield-based organization War Kids Relief, whic…

Project 1929: "Fugitive's Return"

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Susan Glaspell, Fugitive's Return. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1929. 324 pp. Currently out of print.

In 1929, Susan Glaspell's novel Fugitive's Return stood near the top of national bestseller lists, only a few notches down from the number one novel of the year, Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Two years later, in 1931, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her play Alison's House. The Pulitzer Prize was the culmination of an important and successful career in the theater as a playwright and as one of the co-founders, with her husband George Cram Cook, of the Provincetown Players, the theater that also launched the career of Eugene O'Neill. Unfortunately, Glaspell is little known today outside of academic circles. Two of her novels, Fidelity (1915) and Brook Evans (1928), have been reissued by Persephone Books in London, but Fugitive's Return remains out of print. This is a shame, because Fugitive's Return is a beautiful, deep, and mov…

Un premio bloguero

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Last week I received this blog award, the Premio Dardo ("dart prize"), from my Canadian blogfriend Chris. I did a little web Quellenforschungand traced the award back to a Spanish source, which notes that the award is given for los esfuerzos que cada blogger muestra cada día en su empeño por transmitir valores culturales, éticos, literarios o personales ("the effort the blogger makes each day in undertaking to transmit cultural, ethical, literary or personal values"). Thanks, Chris! Following the proper blog award etiquette, I'm going to pass this award along to Elizabeth at JanusJaywalking. Keep blogging, Elizabeth!

Winter Blossoms

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The rosemary plant in one of our east-facing windows has been blooming now for several weeks. The lovely pale blue flowers are, like rosemary leaves, beautifully fragrant when crushed. They're edible, and are said to make a soothing bath infusion. This is the first winter in which we've been successful in keeping our rosemary plant alive. We bought it early last spring at the annual Prairie Creek Community School plant sale on Bridge Square.

Praise Song for January 21, 2009

Today is a new day,
like any other.
There are bills to pay,
mouths to feed,
bridges to build.
The map of the world
still looks the same.
There will still be
hands clenched into fists,
voices raised in anger.
People will die,
the earth will grow hotter.
We will still struggle
from paycheck to paycheck,
from dark to dark.
The ends will never meet.
There is still work to be done.

We will still see differences,
forgetting that we are all made
from the stuff of this earth.
We will still magnify
our differences to heaven
in our will to believe
we belong to something more.
That something more is us.
That something more is
what we can do, and the world
we can make, if yesterday
was more than words,
more than saying love out loud,
but the start of living it.

The sharp sparkle has faded
into the dullness of another winter dawn.
But this is what yesterday meant:
that we are still the people we always were,
becoming the people we always meant to be.

Today is a new day,
like any other.
Today we must stop
congratulating ourselves.
Tod…

Project 1929: "Passing"

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Nella Larsen, Passing. Negro University Press, 1969. Originally published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1929. Also available in more recent editions. 216 pp.

Nella Larsen's Passing takes as its epigram the famous lines from Countee Cullen's poem "Heritage," which was published in 1925:
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?Like Jessie Redmon Fauset's Plum Bun, published in the same year, Larsen's novel is about an African-American woman who "passes" as white, and asks many of the same questions about race, class, family, and identity.

Nella Larsen (1891-1964) was the daughter of a black West Indian father and a white Danish mother. In 1929 she was awarded a Harmon Foundation award for her first novel, Quicksand, an autobiographical novel about a biracial woman. Later in 1929, she published Passing, and in 1930 became the first woman of color to be awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. But s…

Spaghetti alla Blogger

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Last night, Clara cooked up one of my favorite "comfort foods," spaghetti alla carbonara. It's one of those recipes that, early in my life as a cook, I followed meticulously in Marcella Hazan's classic Italian cookbook. I cooked in those days as if Marcella were standing over my shoulder, shaking her head disapprovingly if I failed to observe any of her occasionally anal retentive steps. Over the years, I stopped parboiling the bacon before cooking it in garlic-infused olive oil. I also took to adding a small pinch of nutmeg (or mace, which for some reason is what we have in our cupboard instead of nutmeg) to the dish, which brings the flavor imperceptibly closer to the taste of spaghetti alla carbonara made with real pancetta.

When we arrived on the island in Michigan where we spent our honeymoon in late June 1989, we found the kitchen stocked with eggs, white wine, good parmesan cheese, and pancetta. One of our first home-cooked meals as husband and wife was sp…

Reading Journal: "Land of Marvels"

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Barry Unsworth, Land of Marvels. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday. 2009. 287 pp. $26.00.

In Hesiod's eighth-century Greek poem about the origin of the gods, the Theogony, the Muses boast that they know how to tell "lies like the truth." The foundation of myth, of poetry, of storytelling is the telling of lies that compel belief or, at least, the suspension of disbelief. Sometimes we tell stories to beguile others, and sometimes we manage to convince ourselves with our own storytelling. Can we ever tell the whole and unadulterated truth, or is reality always our version of it, shaped and distorted by our need for structure and meaning, by our desires and fears?

Questions like these lie behind most of Barry Unsworth's fiction. He's interested in storytelling and what compels it. He's interested in how people reconstruct events and find meaning in them. One of his most popular novels, Morality Play (1995), is a medieval mystery in which a band of traveling players…

Project 1929: "The Black Christ"

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The frontispiece from Countee Cullen's The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929). Illustration by Charles Cullen. Click to enlarge.

One of the writers whose career was fostered by Jessie Redmon Fauset at The Crisis was Countee Cullen (1903-1946), the son of a Methodist pastor, a Harvard graduate, and one of the great poetic voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Cullen was a lyric poet in the tradition of the British Romantics, and made a name for himself with his first collection of poetry, Color, published in 1925. One of the themes that continually resurfaces in his poetry is the inscrutability of a God who would create racial divisions and allow them to be the basis of so much hatred and suffering. In one of his most famous poems from Color, "Yet Do I Marvel," he dwells on what seem like God's arbitrary arrangements. He begins—

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell me why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh tha…

Polenta Casserole and Chicken Fingers

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If you want to get your kitchen smelling like summer in the middle of winter, here's my suggestion. Make a pot of homemake tomato sauce. Large (28 oz.) cans of Muir Glen organic tomatoes are on sale at Just Food Co-op in January for just $1.79. Yesterday afternoon, I dumped a can of diced tomatoes into my small Le Creuset saucepan, added a bunch of chopped scallions (the white part and about an inch of green), a pressed clove of garlic, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a sprinkling of dried oregano, and salt, and let it simmer slowly for a couple of hours. The scent wafted me to a warmer season.

When the sauce was almost ready (thick, rather than watery), I made a small batch of polenta: a cup of water, a cup of milk, and a cup of corn meal, simmered and stirred until thickened, with grated parmesan added at the end. I spread the polenta into a buttered 10-inch tart pan, spread the tomato sauce on top, sprinkled on some pitted kalamata olives, spread grated mozzarella and…

The Melodramatic Mode

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The first thing I noticed when I entered the Carleton College Art Gallery last night was the group three young women in light Grecian dress forming a tableau, assuming a series of graceful and stylized poses in a kind of semi-static dance, slowly shifting their position throughout the evening. On the opposite wall was the key to this unusual display in illustrations of the popular Delsarte method of dramatic gesture, devised in the nineteenth century by François Delsarte. The Delsarte method became the basis of the stylized acting style associated with silent movie melodramas. At left is an illustration from a late nineteenth-century textbook of the Delsarte method. In the college art gallery's current exhibition, Modernizing Melodrama, similar illustrations of the Delsarte method are juxtaposed with clips from silent films, including The Phantom of the Opera (1925), which features this tableau of Lon Chaney (the Phantom) and Mary Philbin (Christine).

This tableau tells an inst…

Project 1929: "Plum Bun"

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If you look carefully at the photograph at left, you will notice that Jessie Redmon Fauset is wearing a Phi Beta Kappa key along with her string of pearls. In 1905, Fauset became the first African-American woman to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She was a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied languages: Latin, Greek, French, and English literature. She went on to earn a master's degree in French at the University of Pennsylvania, and to study at the Sorbonne, before becoming a teacher of Latin and French in the New York City public schools. Then, in 1919, Fauset was recruited by W.E.B. Dubois to be the literary editor of The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP, where she nurtured the careers of Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, and other important figures of the Harlem Renaissance. She left The Crisis in 1924, devoted several years to writing and publishing her own four novels, then spent the rest of her career as a French teacher in New York City.

Fauset was extraordinar…

A Webmaster's Work is Never Done

I've spent nearly eight hours today redesigning the website for the Cannon River STEM School, including two hours down at the Hideaway coffeehouse consulting with local blogging guru Griff Wigley, who helped me to customize a standard Wordpress template. I started working on this project at 1:00 this afternoon. It's now nearly 9:00 p.m., and I'm still ironing out minor glitches.

Winter Term

Winter term classes started at Carleton yesterday morning. I'm teaching Latin 101 five days a week this term. As usual on the first day of class, I was a little manic and the students were a little subdued. I'm hoping that, as is usually the case, we will reach a kind of equilibrium before too long. The class is fast-paced. In the first day, we covered the alphabet, pronunciation, grammatical terminology, the first and second conjugations (present, imperfect, and future), and the irregular verb to be. Fortunately, I have an excellent teaching assistant, Jenny, who can be counted on to correct my occasional mistakes and to laugh at appropriate times.

Terrible News for Local Readers

Dan Bergeson sent this email out today to members of the Carleton community:

Carleton is announcing today that it is closing River City Books, the College-owned bookstore located at 306 Division Street in downtown Northfield.

River City Books opened in March 2002 as a service and benefit to the Northfield community, but the lack of a positive bottom line ultimately led to the decision to close the store. The store has not met its financial goals, and after 6 ½ years of operation and in light of the economic downturn, it doesn’t appear that it will anytime soon. Despite the best efforts of our terrific staff and the generous support of our landlords, the store has not achieved the sales volume necessary to generate positive net income.

The store, featuring more than 10,000 volumes, two levels and meeting space for book clubs and author appearances, is one of only a handful in Minnesota to earn designation in the “McSweeney’s 100” which identifies top independent bookstores.

We’ve had tr…

New Books for January 2009

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I always hesitate to shell out $25 for a new hardcover book, and usually convince myself to wait for the paperback, but there are two new books coming out in January that may overpower my habitual parsimony. The first, due out on Tuesday (January 6), is Barry Unsworth's Land of Marvels. Unsworth won the Booker Prize in 1992 for his novel Sacred Hunger, an epic account of the eighteenth-century slave trade. His novels raise the bar for historical fiction, vividly and imaginatively recreating the past while drawing out the profound implications for the present. His 2004 novel Songs of the Kings cleverly and compellingly recast the Homeric narrative of the Trojan War to catch the echoes of modern politics in the era of the Iraq War. It manages to be entertaining and relevant without being heavy-handed. Land of Marvels, a story of archeology and espionage in World War I era Mesopotamia, promises to follow the same winning recipe of history spiced with modern resonances and the t…

Project 1929: "A Room of One's Own"

Some of my thoughts on Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929) can be found here.

Happy New Year

We rang in 2009, as we did 2008, among friends, with Scotch eggs, habañero margaritas, and a game of Trivial Pursuit. At 11:45 p.m., I flossed my teeth for the last time in 2008. I didn't miss a single day of flossing all year! Meanwhile, in Sussex, on the south coast of England, my friend Louise was watching the first sunrise of 2009. Have a look at the beginning of a new day.