"I Did Not Want to Lose My Summer for a Scare": T.S. Eliot on the Outbreak of World War One

Eliot's draft registration card photo, 1918
A hundred years ago today, T.S. Eliot wrote to his mother with his first impressions about the war that will become known as World War One. At the beginning of August 1914, Eliot was in Germany, attending a summer school in Marburg. Though he would later describe the experience of being caught in Germany as "much like the childhood's exasperation of being in an upper berth as the train passed through a large city - (...) an intolerable bore," his first letter to his family paints a slightly different picture. He captures the disbelief, confusion and rising tension as the international participants at the summer school suddenly find themselves thrust into the roles of friends or enemies to Germany, according to their nationality.

Review: There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

This is a book that's hard to pin down.

It's a collection of 17 stories by Russian writer Ludmila Petrushevskaya and it falls a little short what I would have wanted to see, as far as editing collections goes. We are given no useful information about these stories. We are told in the introduction that they span the whole of Petrushevskaya's life, but it's unclear if they're the only short stories she's written (they are not). There are no dates attached to any of the stories, beyond a statement in the introduction that the first of them was published in 1972 and the last in 2008. Why is this important, though? After all, we're only here for the literature, right? Well, it's important because the translator, Anna Summers, is the one who selected the stories and organized them in sections. The theme for each section is transparent and their interplay is sometimes clever. Nonetheless, there is a meta-story being told here and it's Summers' story, not Petrushevskaya's. Or perhaps it is Petrushevskaya's after all, and this is the most natural order for these stories, but we have no way of evaluating that. This lack of basic tools is even more frustrating when you realize that it's not something Google can fix for you if you don't speak Russian (and perhaps not even then). 

Listen to a Short History of Metaphor

Yesterday I talked a little about metaphors and I quoted from Davidson's paper What Metaphors Mean. Davidson's paper was philosophy; it only used examples from literature to make a point about how language works. But reading about this topic yesterday I stumbled across this Radio 4 show that discussed the evolution of metaphor in the history of literature. I thought some of you might enjoy it. Granted, it jumps around a lot and there is some conceptual sloppiness going on (some of the examples they discuss are not metaphors), but it's a pretty interesting conversation. They discuss Homer, Milton, Spenser, Donne, Shakespeare, Dickens, Woolf and possibly a couple of other people I can't remember right now. 

If you're in the UK, you can listen to the show here. If you're not in the UK, there is a browser extension on Chrome called Hola that lets you pretend you are :)

The Literary Hippopotamus Chase

I wanted to sit down and write a short post about James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and a hippopotamus. Sounds easy enough, right? But one thing led to another and somehow, at the end of two hours, I found myself busy trying to find out who called Tolstoy a "great moralizing infant," all thoughts of Joyce or Eliot forgotten. It was time well spent, though, as I did read a ton of interesting stuff and I'm going to share some of it with you here (including, yes, who called Tolstoy such apt names). Here then is my wild hippopotamus chase across the internet and the reading list that resulted from it.

1. Where it all started: The Letters of T.S. Eliot, vol. 1. 

This is the first item on my reading list, but also the only one that I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend. I am 1/3 through this volume now and I am delighted and entertained by it. But if you don't already have an interest in modernism, literary history or snooping on dead people's letters, I think you can safely skip this one. We only need a footnote from it to get this literary hippopotamus chase started, and I'm going to quote it for you right here: 
TSE used to say that the only evidence that James Joyce had read anything of his, was that one day in Paris the novelist told him that he had been, presumably with his children, to the Jardin des Plantes, and had paid his respects to 'your friend the hippopotamus'. 
- The Letters of TSE, Faber & Faber 1988, page 213
Can you spell "adorable literary history anecdote"?  I mean T.S. Eliot definitely keeping track of whether Joyce had read his stuff or not, Joyce with his kids visiting the menagerie, Joyce telling Eliot he saw his "friend the hippopotamus" - there is not one aspect of this that I don't find adorable. So of course I was then off to read Eliot's poem, The Hippopotamus

Change Your Bookmarks and Let's Go!

As I mentioned before, I grew tired of our current name/URL and have been longing for a change. My co-bloggers agreed, but it took us a while to find the time and courage to do it. It's time now. This weekend I'll be tinkering and this site might go offline for a while. From Monday we'll have a spiffy new home at zombiechekhov.com. If you're wondering why Zombie Chekhov, there's a longer answer here, but the short version is that it started as a playful riff on this quote from the diary of Katherine Mansfield, a quote we love and resonate with.
"Ach, Tchehov! why are you dead? Why can't I talk to you, in a big darkish room, at late evening — where the light is green from the waving trees outside? I'd like to write a series of Heavens; that would be one." 
Under this new name, we'll still be writing about the same old things: books, writers, the occasional movie. If we occasionally do manage to conjure that "conversation in a big darkish room, at late evening" feel, we'll be happy.

I want to keep reading your blog, what do I do? 

  • Mom, you're so sweet. 
  • Bookmark zombiechekhov.com.
  • If you subscribe to Lit. Hitchhiker via email, feed reader or the Google Followers gadget, I think I can redirect those, so you probably don't have to re-subscribe. But if you don't see any updates on Monday, that means I failed horribly. Check zombiechekhov.com. Give me a hug.
  • Follow us on twitter @lithitchhiker. We'll keep this handle for a while longer to minimize confusion.

We hope to see you on the other side. Zombie Chekhov will be waiting. (I am sorry. I will see myself out now.)

The man.

A Handful of Books

When I was a teenager, I used to read blog posts by people in their 20s and 30s who complained about how they don't read anymore. Reader, I scoffed. I had a pretty clear list of things that might happen to other people as they grow up, but would never, could never happen to me. Soul-killing jobs. A passion for running, cooking or, if God was really unkind, both. No reading. My job is okay, my legs unexercised, my mind still in shock after it discovered one can actually overcook pasta last month. I don't read much. 

Or perhaps I should say that I do read. It's only that books became what theater used to be for me. Something I enjoy but rarely go to, because it seems to require so much effort when so many alternative sources of entertainment can be had for no effort, and every time I do go, I tell myself, "This was worth the effort. I should do it more often." and then don't come back for another year or two. And so I've only seen a handful of plays in my life and read only a handful of books this year. It comes back to the same thing: easier entertainment to be had elsewhere. And yes, if we are to express everything in terms of entertainment and steer clear of categories like "learning," "self-improvement" or whatnot entirely, in most cases inferior entertainment too. I know that reading that Ishiguro novel would bring me more pleasure than refreshing tumblr for the 250th time today. That's not the point.

Book blogging is a double-edged sword here. Knowing that I will have to write about a book adds more to the cost of reading it, a cost that my mind is already reluctant to shoulder. And because I'm bad at focusing on two things at the same time, it also creates a break between books that allows my mind to wander off into the world of the refresh button again. "No more books for you until you write that post about Their Eyes Are Watching God!" usually leads to no books instead of leading to a post. (Witness the life of this blog so far.) But blogging can be a tool as well. I have taken to carving time for reading. I'm not at the stage where I ride trains for it (yet), but this summer I've started to develop little strategies to trick my mind into reading. I'm hoping to add bragging to that list. I'm proud of the few books I read so far, snatched from the jaws of the internet, so I will make a list of them here. I am not sure which one of these I am going to write more about. So far the best strategy has been not to stop reading, to go from book to book with no pause. I'll have to figure out where writing about things and remembering them fits in this scheme. 

So here's my handful of books from August and July.