Season Six of Game of Thrones is about to air. One of the great pleasures of watching the show is the way in which George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and the show-producers, David Benioff and Dan Weiss, build their imagined world from the real and imagined structures of medieval history and literature.
To celebrate the life of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, who died four hundred years ago today, here is an extract taken from Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Like all true Trollopians I carry in my mind a vivid picture of Barsetshire and its people. For me it is a landscape of rolling countryside with ancient churches and great houses, with Barchester a compact cathedral city of great elegance, as if Peterborough cathedral had been miraculously transported ten miles into Stamford.
Over the years since it was written, many millions must have sung ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (roughly translated as ‘days long past’) while sharing Mr. Micawber’s ignorance of what of its words actually mean. Most of us go through the year without singing a single song by Robert Burns, and then, within the space of 25 days, sing this one twice on January 1st and 25th
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a punisher.
The privileged poets of the Great War are those who fought in it—Rosenberg, Owen, Sassoon. This is natural and human, but it is not fair. Kipling is one of the finest poets of the War, but he writes as a parent, a civilian, a survivor—all three of them compromised positions.
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.
The storyteller has always been a figure of magic, and the circle a magic figure. This is Rudyard Kipling, casting his spell around 1902, the year the Just So Stories for Little Children were published. He is on a liner sailing from Southampton to Cape Town in South Africa, where the Kipling family had taken to spending the winter.
‘What connexion can there be between the place in Lincolnshire, the house in town, the Mercury in powder, and the whereabouts of Jo the outlaw with the broom,’ asks Dickens’s narrator in Bleak House. As the novel develops, it offers various possible answers, including disease, family, money, and friendship.
“Your library of a gracious country villa, from where the reader can see the city close by: might you squeeze in my naughty Muse, between your more respectable poems?” Martial’s avid fans will find themselves on familiar ground here, at the suburban ranch of the poet’s aspirational namesake, Julius Martial (4.64).
“If you have no better offer, do come,” 11.52 helps put flesh on the bones of Martial’s Rome (‘you know Stephanus’ baths are right next door…’) and presents the city poet in a neighbourly light. It’s also a favourite of modern foodies in search of an unpretentious sample menu from ancient daily life.
The proudly coifed and teased hair, the desire to make a splash, the lust after wealth, the racist remarks: Donald Trump? Or Mark Twain? Today is Mark Twain’s birthday; he was born on 30 November 1835, and died on 21 April 1910.
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).