Showing posts from December, 2009

Wet Christmas, Part II

Merry Christmas!
Weather note: The Christmas storm of 2009 has mostly fizzled.  Last night, when the predictions were for an inch of snow an hour, we took Pippi out for a Christmas Eve walk in the rain.  More rain today has made it a slushy Christmas.  

White Christmas, Part I

Our house on the morning of Christmas Eve 2009
On Halloween 1991, I was in St. Peter, Minnesota, for a classics lecture at Gustavus Adolphus College, where I was a visiting assistant professor of classics.  The heavy snow had begun to fall as I came out of the lecture.  I spent that night in St. Peter, and in the morning I took advantage of a lull in the blizzard to shovel my car out of the driveway where I had parked it.  It would have been wiser to stay in St. Peter, but classes at Gustavus had been cancelled, and I was eager to get home to Northfield, where Clara was alone with two-month old Will.  So, as the snow began to fall more heavily again, I started out.  Fortunately, I found myself behind a snowplow between St. Peter and Montgomery, and after two or three hours managed to make it home safely. When the snow finally stopped falling, there was more than 28 inches of snow on the ground.  
This morning, we woke to nearly 8 inches of fresh snow—the official amount for Northfield w…

Books Reviewed in 2009

Mary Cholmondeley, Red PottageStorm Jameson, The Georgian Novel and Mr. Robinson
Elina Hirvonen, When I Forgot
Tove Jansson, The True Deceiver
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show
Mrs. Humphry Ward, Robert Elsmere
Rhoda Broughton, Belinda
Edmund Burke, Conciliation with America
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Jon Meacham, American Lion
Jane & Mary Findlater, Crossriggs
John Williams, Stoner
Louis De Bernières, A Partisan's Daughter
Victoria Clayton, Out of Love
John Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington
Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love
Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mr. Fortune's Maggot
Jetta Carleton, The Moonflower Vine
Elizabeth Bowen, The Last September
Jessica Mitford, Hons and Rebels
Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room
David Quammen, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin
Stefan Zweig, The Post-Office Girl
V.S. Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival
James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom
Olivia Manning, School for Love
Sylvia Townsend Warner, The True Heart
Helen Humphreys, Coventry
Edith Henrietta Fowler, The Young Pr…

Reading Journal: "Red Pottage"

Mary Cholmondeley, Red Pottage. Virago Modern Classics 1985.  Originally published in 1899. 
Early in Red Pottage, Lord Newhaven confronts his unfaithful wife.  During their conversation, which takes place in her bedroom, Lord Newhaven picks up a book—"an Imitation of Christ, bound in that peculiar shade of lilac which at that moment prevailed."  It's a small, but telling detail, since Cholmondeley's novel is about what is real and what is imitation, what is true Christian behavior and what is pious cant, what is genuine and what is merely fashionable.  
In a few pages, we are introduced to Sybell Loftus, a superficial woman who, Cholmondeley tells us archly, "had not the horrid perception of difference between the real and the imitation which spoils the lives of many."  At Sybell's party, the conversation turns to Hester Gresley, a young woman who has written a popular novel set in the slums of east London.  One of the pseudo-intellectuals at the party c…

The Best and Worst Years of the Decade

The Best

For me, 2000 was a banner year. On the first day of school in the new year, I started substitute teaching in the Northfield Public Schools. I still remember fondly my first day of subbing in Mrs. Kohl's fifth grade class at Bridgewater Elementary School. I find it unbelievable that those little children are now juniors in college! Then, in the late winter of 2000, director Ruth Weiner, choreographer Devin Cary, and the Carleton Players began rehearsals for Euripides' Iphigeneia at Aulis, using the new translation I had made for the production. The production ran May 10-13, 2000. For me it was an unforgettable experience, and one of the highlights of the entire decade. 2000 also saw the publication of the anthology 33 Minnesota Poets (Nodin Press), which included a selection of my poetry and introduced me to fellow Minnesota poets like Joyce Sutphen and Scott King. Finally, the summer of 2000 brought our first family trip to England, where we spent a month living…

December Reading: The Eighteenth Century

Earlier this week I finally finished reading the first book of Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which ends with two famous chapters on the rise and persecution of the early Christian church under the Roman Empire. Chapter XVI closes with the assertion that internecine strife among Christians themselves claimed many more lives than did persecution at the hands of the pagan Roman emperors:
We shall conclude this chapter by a melancholy truth, which obtrudes itself on the reluctant mind; that even admitting, without hesitation or enquiry, all that history has recorded, or devotion has feigned, on the subject of martyrdoms, it must still be acknowledged, that the Christians, in the course of their intestine dissentions, have inflicted far greater severities on each other, than they had experienced from the zeal of infidels.This is a long sentence—nearly seventy words—but carefully balanced. It appears to be based upon the structures and rhythms of Latin. Gi…

Commonplace Book (12/16/09)

Favorite quotations from today's reading.

"...that absorbed and inward look that only comes with whipped cream." Katherine Mansfield, "The Garden-Party"

"The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into complaints." Edmund Burke, On the Revolution in France


I was surprised to find in my change this morning a new 2009 Lincoln penny, with a redesigned image on the reverse of Lincoln standing in front of the Illinois state capital. The redesign, in honor of the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, was authorized by Title III of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, which called for four new reverse designs for the penny to represent the four periods of Lincoln's life: his birth and early years in Kentucky, his formative years in Indiana, his early career in Illinois, and his Presidency in Washington, D.C. The obverse of the penny remains the iconic image of Lincoln sculpted by Victor David Brenner (1871-1924) at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt. The Lincoln penny was first issued in 1909, the centennial of Lincoln's birth, and was the first U.S. coin to feature the portrait of a real person. It was also controversial for bearing the initials of the sculptor, V.D.B., which can now be seen below Lincoln's shoulder. …

December on the Prairie


Christmas Tree 2009


The Domestic Novel

On my Wordpress blog there's a long post up about Storm Jameson's essay "The Georgian Novel and Mr. Robinson" and the domestic novel.

A Journey of Disbelief

Two years ago, I blogged about the bizarre evangelical Christian effort to purify Interstate 35 and make it a "Highway of Holiness" in supposed fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Last night, as I drove to St. Paul for the choir concert, I noticed an interesting progression of Adopt-a-Highway signs on I-35 north of the exit for Northfield. The first sign indicated that the section of highway had been adopted by the Northfield Unitarian Fellowship. The next sign, several miles further along, indicated that the next section of highway had been adopted by the Minnesota Atheists.

The next sign, rather profoundly, said: "This Section Available."

Macalester College Choir Concert

Last night, as a steady stream of cars was heading into Northfield on Highway 19 for the St. Olaf Christmas Festival, I was heading in the opposite direction, bound for the Macalester College Choir concert in St. Paul. Although less famous than the St. Olaf Choir, the Macalester choir has a distinguished history. For many years, it was conducted by the great Dale Warland, and was later conducted by Kathy Romey, who now conducts the Minnesota Chorale. The current conductor is Dr. Eugene Rogers, who led the three ensembles—the Singing Scotsmen, the women's Hildegard Singers, and the combined Concert Choir—in a varied and exciting program that included pieces by Monteverdi and Bach, as well as modern compositions and arrangements, and a new piece for choir and Persian ney by Macalester composer Jan Gilbert.

For me, the highlight was the Bach cantata, BWV 150 (Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich), because it featured a solo by my friend and former student Peytie McCandless. But the ce…

Reading Journal: "When I Forgot"

Elina Hirvonen, When I Forgot.Translated by Douglas Robinson. Tin House Books 2009. Originally published in Finland in 2005. 180 pp. $12.95.

Elina Hirvonen's first novel is set in the shadow of 9/11 and during the build up to the Iraq War that followed. The broken lives of its characters float downward like debris from the tragedy, carrying with them memories of a lost wholeness. Anna, the narrator, is suffering from survivor's guilt. Her troubled brother Joona was beaten by their father, and has landed in a mental hospital suffering from severe psychosis. Anna feels bound to him, she wants to help him, and she wants to forget him. Anna's lover, a visiting American academic named Ian, is the son of a Vietnam vet who came home shattered from the war. As America prepares to go to war in Iraq and anti-American demonstrations fill the streets of Helsinki, Anna and Ian painfully struggle to piece themselves together. Anna and Ian are like human twin towers, reduced to…

Winter Projects

Here's my desk at home, all set up for what I hope will be a productive winter. I'm hoping to complete, or make substantial progress, on two projects. The first is an essay for a collection of essays on writing titled Chapter & Verse. According to the prospectus, "Chapter & Verse provides perspectives on the many avenues to success that academic—and formerly academic—writers find, including writing and working outside the academy." The second project is the translation of primary sources to be included in Clara's book on Athens in 415 BCE. On the right-hand side of my desk, my big Greek lexicon and Oxford Classical Text of Thucydides are laid out so that I can work on translating the Melian Dialogue.