To celebrate the new BBC Radio Four adaptation of the French writer Émile Zola’s, ‘Rougon-Macquart’ cycle, we have looked at the extraordinary life and work of one of the great nineteenth century novelists.
I begin with one of Martial’s more troublesome twentieth-century Avid Fans: the poet, editor, translator, and Fascist propagandist, Ezra Pound.
Why adapt Zola? What’s he got to say to us today? If the novels are so good why not leave them as they are – as novels – and forget it?
Martial adores sexy boys. He craves their kisses, all the more so if they play hard to get, “… buffed amber, a fire yellow-green with Eastern incense… That, Diadumenus, is how your kisses smell, you cruel boy. What if you gave me all of them, without holding back?” (3.65) and “I only want struggling kisses – kisses I’ve seized; I get more of a kick out of your bad temper than your good looks…” (5.46).
‘Dear Martial’ – what a strange coincidence that Martial’s soul-mate, who leads the life he himself dreams of living, is called ‘Julius Martial’. In our selection we meet him first at 1.107, playfully teasing the poet that he ought to write “something big; you’re such a slacker”; at the start of book 3, JMa’s is ‘a name that’s constantly on my lips’ (3.5), and the welcome at his lovely suburban villa on the Janiculan Hill 4.64 is so warm, ‘you will think the place is yours’.
Charles Darwin was widely known as a travel writer and natural historian in the twenty years before On the Origin of Species appeared in 1859. The Voyage of the Beagle was a great popular success in the 1830s. But the radical theories developed in the Origin had been developed more or less in secret during those intervening twenty years.
His books are famous around the world, but their author struggles to get by – two themes that quickly become familiar to any reader. Martial has an eye for fabric. He habitually ranks himself and judges others by the price and quality of their clothing and accessories (e.g. 2.29, 2.57), a quick index in the face-to-face street life of the crammed metropolis.
Thomas De Quincey produced two versions of his most famous work, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. He launched himself to fame with the first version, which appeared in two instalments in the London Magazine for September and October 1821, and which created such a sensation that the London’s editors issued it again the following year in book form.
An epigram is a short poem, most often of two or four lines. Its typical metre is the elegiac couplet, which is also the metre of Roman love poetry (elegy) and the hallmark of Ovid. In antiquity it was a distinctively Greek literary form: Roman writers were never comfortable in it as they were in other imported genres, such as epic and elegy. When they dabbled in epigram they often used Greek to do so. Martial’s decision to write books of Latin epigrams, and nothing else, is thus a very significant departure.
Who is ‘Martial’? “Up to this point, Madam, this little book has been written for you. You want to know for whom the bits further in are written? For me.” (3.68) Marcus Valerius Martialis was born some time around AD 40 (we know his birthday, 1st March, but not the year) at Bilbilis in Hispania Tarraconensis, a province of oil- and wine-rich Roman Spain.
The poet we call Martial, Marcus Valerius Martialis, lived by his wits in first-century Rome. Pounding the mean streets of the Empire’s capital, he takes apart the pretensions, addictions, and cruelties of its inhabitants with perfect comic timing and killer punchlines.
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous detectives of all time. The detective featured in 4 novels and 56 short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is a regular figure in modern day culture; Holmes has been portrayed on stage, radio, film and television for over a century, most recently by Sir Ian McKellan in the 2015 film, Mr. Holmes.
Do you know your Magwitch from your Miss Havisham? Your Philip Pirrip from your Mr Pumblechook? Perhaps Dickens’s best-loved work, Great Expectations features memorable characters such as the convict Magwitch, the mysterious Miss Havisham and her proud ward Estella, as Pip unravels the mystery of his benefactor and of his own heart.
After finishing this season’s Oxford World’s Classics reading group season, I obsessed over the characters, Dickens’s literary finesse– nothing was out of bounds of curiosity. The adaptation that caught my attention the most was BBC’s television miniseries that broadcasted on PBS in the US.
We’re just over a fortnight away from the end of our third season of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group. It’s still not too late to join us as we follow the story of young Pip and his great expectations. If you’re already stuck in with #OWCReads, these discussion questions will help you get the most out of the text.
The characters in Great Expectations are a rather lively bunch; even Orlick, who is (arguably) one of the most foul characters in the book, has a deal of depth that makes us love to hate him. Throughout this season’s reading group, have you ever wondered which of Dickens’s characters you’re most like?