Reviews and News:
If you can make it through the lifeless prose, this piece on bureaucracy and poetry provides a useful history of poetry’s move to the university. It also asks if this is the best way to support it. “Can the market, or civil society, sustain the kind of professionalized poetic activity that has been supported by the academy and other institutions for the past 60 years? Will today’s poets need to return to something like the old patronage system, in which a few exceptional geniuses are subsidized while the majority of would-be professionals are neglected?”
A. E. Housman’s Shropshire Lad is a work of touching pathos. Housman himself seemed to be a man “least tolerant of sentiment”: “When the novelist E. M. Forster wrote to Housman expressing enthusiasm for his poetry, Housman responded with a letter that Forster described as ‘absolutely hateful … I was so disappointed and hurt that I destroyed it after one rapid perusal.’ Another writer was stunned, too. ‘Far from believing that man wrote [A] Shropshire Lad,” he said after meeting Housman, “I shouldn’t even have thought him capable of reading it!’” Adam Kirsch reviews Parker’s Housman Country.
A new history of literary modernity in China.
Scholars and librarians skeptical of Voynich manuscript solution.
Hollywood’s “summer from hell” is the result of a “slow, decades-long structural decline.”
In his memoir, which will be republished on September 21, A. A. Milne expresses regret for the way Winnie the Pooh “undermined his reputation as a serious writer.”
Essay of the Day:
In Modern Age, the always interesting Lauren Weiner revisits the fiction of John O’Hara:
“If you ever want to make America decline again, you can read John O’Hara. That is to say: the cities, towns, and rural areas of ‘flyover country’ that gave Trump his margin of victory in November are in a funk that we might suppose is new; but really it isn’t. O’Hara chronicled life among the bicoastal big shots, but his more compelling depictions are of Pennsylvania, where he was from. He gave his native Pottsville, a small city built on the fortunes of the anthracite coal industry, the fictional name of Gibbsville and set many of his stories and novels there. It was not that happy a place even back in the day.
“We recall the boosterism of Sinclair Lewis’s George Babbitt, who looked forward to his town reaching the milestone of one million inhabitants. It is as if O’Hara were reversing Lewis (one of his great literary influences) in his 1963 story ‘The Man on the Tractor,’ in which a Gibbsville banker offers this lament about the state of the coal industry and of his community: ‘There’s no money here, not the way we knew it. We’re losing population, a thousand a year. The town is back to where it was in the 1910 census, and no new industries coming in. These people that are buying your land, they’ll put up a supermarket and a big parking lot, but sure as hell that’s going to be the end of some more of the smaller stores. . . . It’s the fast buck, the quick turnover, build as cheaply as possible, take your profits and get out. Some of our people drive as much as fifty miles to work and fifty back. Car pools. . . . A few of our old friends have made some money in the stock market, but that’s not here. That’s New York and Philadelphia, and representing industries as far away as California.’ (501)
“O’Hara writes about ambition and the things it makes us do. His business people drive hard bargains and his married couples obsess about how they might move themselves up in the social pecking order. Worse, his young people, observing this behavior in their parents, are so jaundiced that they don’t seem to harbor much ambition at all. In the posthumously published story ‘Family Evening’ (1972), a daughter refers to her elders as ‘the B.D.’s’ or ‘Better Deads.’
“What is refreshing about O’Hara (1905–1970) is that he was an outlier. For whatever reason—and quite possibly it was his Roman Catholicism—he was immune to the attractions of the ‘protest novel’ of the 1930s and ’40s. While he cultivated friendships with trendy Reds and Popular Fronters like Dorothy Parker, Clifford Odets, and Ernest Hemingway, their politics—their proletarian-glorifying and their reform impulses—were not his. O’Hara’s America is rather grim, yet he does not come across as anti-American but as a writer trying to capture the earthy reality.”
Read the rest.
Poem: John Burnside, “Funeral Rites”
John Prevas, Hannibal's Oath: The Life and Wars of Rome's Greatest Enemy (Da Capo, September 26): “Few images in history have managed to capture and hold the popular imagination quite like that of Hannibal, the fearless North African, perched on a monstrous elephant, leading his mercenaries over the Alps, and then, against all odds, descending the ice-covered peaks to challenge Rome in her own backyard for mastery of the ancient world. It was a bold move, and it established Hannibal as one of history's greatest commanders. But this same brilliant tactician is also one of history's most tragic figures; fate condemned him to win his battles but not his war against Rome. An internationally recognized expert on Hannibal for nearly thirty years, historian John Prevas has visited every Hannibal-related site and mountain pass, from Tunisia to Italy, Spain to Turkey, seeking evidence to dispel the myths surrounding Hannibal's character and his wars.”