Showing posts from October, 2009

"Only Beautiful and Other Stories"

Kerry Langan, Only Beautiful & Other Stories. Decatur, GA: Wising Up Press, 2009. 214 pp. $20. Available from the publisher or from, or by special order from your favorite independent bookselller.

In the first two stories in Kerry Langan's beautiful new collection of short stories, there are moments of silence. The silence in the first story, "Makeover," comes in the wake of a trauma: "The furnace shuts off and the house is gradually quiet, so silent I hear the spray of rain hitting the window." In the second story, "Lead Us Not," the silence marks an absence: "The room was so quiet I could hear the buzzing of the fluorescent lights overhead and the hiss from the radiators." One of Langan's gifts as a writer is her ability to listen intently, and to hear what is unspoken in every situation. She also has a great writer's eye for the significant detail, bringing entire life histories alive in a single moment of…

Flu Update

This subject heading has appeared in my email inbox three times in the past week. Another professor reports that he received five flu automailer messages in a single day. We are now in Week 7 of Carleton's nine-and-a-half week term, usually a stressful part of the term in the best of times. This fall, the flu is taking full advantage of the stressed and sleep-deprived student body. Currently, 30% of my Latin 101 class is out with what appears to be H1N1.

The Historical Jesus and the Late Victorian Novel

Ernest Renan

"The great problem of the present age," writes the translator of Ernest Renan's La Vie de Jésus, "is to preserve the religious spirit, whilst getting rid of the superstitions and absurdities that deform it, and which are alike opposed to science and common sense." Renan's book appeared in English in 1863, a few years after the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species (1859), and invited similar criticism and outrage with its challenge to the traditional Christian world view. Renan (1823-1892) attempted to see Jesus in his historical context, not as the Son of God, but as an historical figure whose thought and actions were influenced by the intellectual, social, and political currents of his time, and by a long tradition of Jewish thought.

The influence of Renan's Life of Jesus pervades Mrs. Humphry Ward's great novel Robert Elsmere (1888). The title character is an Anglican rector whose historical and scientific investigations…

"Beyond Forgetting" Readings

Tomorrow (Friday, October 16), I'll be taking part in two poetry readings from the anthology Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease (Kent State University Press). Joining me for both readings will be the book's editor, poet Holly Hughes; at the second reading, we'll be joined by Minneapolis poet Ethna McKiernan. The first reading is at 4:00 pm at Viking Theater, at St. Olaf College. The second reading is at the Northfield Retirement Community Chapel, starting at 7:00. I wrote about Holly, and the book, on in the spring. You can purchase the book for 15% off ($25.46) this week at the St. Olaf Bookstore.

Pumpkin Flower

October has brought a harvest of new books from people I know or used to know. I'm beginning to feel like the one vine in the pumpkin patch that flowered like the rest, but never produced a pumpkin. Here are a couple of the prize pumpkins produced this October.

Kerry Langan, Only Beautiful & Other Stories (Wising Up Press). Kerry has been a friend since our desks faced each other in the Oberlin College Library in the mid-1980s. She was a young reference librarian and I was a student worker at the circulation desk. Kerry and I share a birthday, and a similar history. In the 1990s, she gave up the reference desk for a life as a writer and a stay-at-home mom. She has written and published numerous short stories, and several of them, along with a novella, are brought together in her new book.

Rebekah Frumkin is a student in my Latin 101 class this term. She won her first national writing contest at the age of seven, was a published fiction writer as a teenager, has contribut…

Another Greuze

Here, again, is Mrs. Humphry Ward's recollection of George Eliot's arrival at Lincoln College, Oxford, and her first sight of Mrs. Pattison, the Rector's young wife:
As we turned into the quadrangle of Lincoln—suddenly, at one of the upper windows of the Rector's lodgings, which occupied the far right corner of the quad, there appeared the head and shoulders of Mrs. Pattison, as she looked out and beckoned smiling to Mr. Lewes. It was a brilliant apparition, as though a French portrait by Greuze or Perronneau had suddenly stepped into a vacant space in the old college wall. The pale, pretty head, blond-cendrée, the delicate smiling features and the white throat; a touch of black, a touch of blue; a white dress; a general eighteenth-century impression as though of powder and patches:—Mrs. Lewes [George Eliot] perceived it in a flash, and I saw her run eagerly to Mr. Lewes and draw his attention to the window and its occupant...Mrs. Humphry Ward

In an earlier post on Middl…

Student Journalism on

During the fall term, I'm supervising a work study student, Maia Rodriguez, who's writing regular feature stories for Maia is a senior history major and a student in Doug McGill's journalism class at Carleton. Her stories will be appearing once or twice a week on, and will be archived here. She's already posted stories on National Coming Out Day and the gay community in Northfield, and on the Pressville blog that features student work from her journalism class.

Maia is working for through a partnership with the ACT Center at Carleton, which places student workers in positions with community organizations.

This is my second experience supervising a student journalist at In January, I worked with a student intern, Amy Sack, a senior from St. Olaf College.

Here's a link to a YouTube video of the multi-talented Maia as soloist with the Carleton a cappella group Exit 69.

Related: About NCO|

Reading is Fundamental

During the the course of the nineteenth century, an interesting transformation took place in higher education in both England and America. Universities, which for much of their history had primarily trained clergymen, were now training scientists. One of the results of this was the decline and, in many cases, abandonment of the classical curriculum based on the study of Latin and Greek. At Harvard, which dropped Greek as an entrance requirement in 1887, President Eliot wrote:
Universities are called on to train young men for public service in new democracies, for a new medical profession, and for finances, journalism, transportation, manufacturing, the new architecture, the building of vessels and railroads, and the direction of great public works which improve agriculture, conserve the national resources, provide pure water supplies, and distribute light, heat, and mechanical power. The practitioners of these new professions can profit in so many directions by other studies in the…




We finally got around to having a professional landscaper come in and remove the weeds that had taken over the flowerbeds around our house. A small stone wall and a few other touches were added at the same time. Here's the before and after.

Notice the weeds all around the foundation, and the out-of-control forsythia.

Notice the neat wall, trimmed forsythia, and lack of weeds. Grass will be planted along the right side to complete the project. Flowers and herbs will be planted inside the wall in the spring.

"A Grammarian's Funeral"

"To the great, the fashionable, the gay, and the busy," Mark Pattison writes in his 1875 biography of the sixteenth-century classical scholar Isaac Casaubon, "the grammarian is a poor pedant, and no famous man."

In Rhoda Broughton's Belinda, Belinda is first drawn to Professor Forth, the character modeled after Pattison, after she hears him read Robert Browning's famous poem "A Grammarian's Funeral." The poem, written in 1855, is a mock heroic dirge sung by the students of a scholar as they bear his corpse to its final resting place on a mountain top. It shifts between the dignified style of the opening exhortation—"Let us begin.."—and humorously contrived Byronic rhymes. For example:

Image the whole, then execute the parts—
Fancy the fabric
Quite, ere you build, ere steel strike fire from quartz,
Ere mortar dab brick.

The scholar in the poem has devoted his life to learning, but has never gotten around to living. His patient studies …

"The Wisdom of Dorothea"

Gertrude Himmelfarb, "The Wisdom of Dorothea," in The Moral Imagination: From Edmund Burke to Lionel Trilling (Ivan Dee 2006).

If the term "neoconservative intellectual" is not to be considered altogether an oxymoron, the appellation may be applied to the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb. The wife of the late Irving Kristol and a student of Leo Strauss, Himmelfarb is a scholar of Victorian culture, the author of numerous books, and the recipient of a National Humanities Medal (2004). In 2002, she was one of three conservative scholars who decided to boycott an academic conference because Cornel West had been invited to speak. Her scholarship has been devoted to demonstrating the moral superiority of the Victorians, to demonstrating the superiority of the British to the French Enlightenment, and to demonstrating that Edmund Burke and George Eliot were Zionists.

In her essay "The Wisdom of Dorothea," Himmelfarb addresses the question: "Why did Dorothea marr…