In May, 2018 my wife and I were on vacation in Spain. We took an easy side-trip to Gibraltar, to spend the day. I (momentarily) mastered my acrophobia to take a cable-car to the top of the storied Rock, which had great views … along with the famous monkey residents (barbary macaques).
Descended from the Top of the Rock, I also encountered the to-be-expected tourist items, but the inevitable fish-and-chips, accompanied with John Smith’s Ale, were really not so hard to endure. 🙂 There was also the iconic Veddy British “pillar box”:
Being the literary character that I am, I recalled the famous (in certain circles) linkage to one of my very fave novelists, Anthony Trollope. Trollope’s day job was with the Post Office. In 1854 he recommended that pillar boxes be installed in the Channel Islands. They were the first mailboxes in Britain. By the next year they had spread to London. No longer need one make a trek to the post office to mail a letter.
I recently finished Trollope’s novel The Duke’s Children (1880). (I have now concluded my traversal of his “Palliser” novels.)
One of the plot threads concerns Lady Mary, the Duke’s daughter, who is in love with a gentleman — Frank Tregear by name — whose station in life, the Duke feels, is beneath her. He has forbidden the couple to see each other. Lady Mary is, at one point, staying with the Countess, Lady Cantrip, who has been charged by the Duke with the challenging task of keeping an eye on her, where her romantic life is concerned.
Though she knows the practice would be frowned upon, Mary has not actually promised not to write to Tregear. When he writes to her, she can not resist replying. And, in Chapter XXIV:
The next morning Lady Mary showed [Lady Cantrip] a copy of the reply which she had already sent to her lover.
Dear Frank, You may be quite sure that I shall never give you up. I will not write more at present because papa does not wish me to do so. I shall show papa your letter and my answer. Your own most affectionate Mary.
“Has it gone?” asked the Countess. “I put it myself into the pillar letter-box.” Then Lady Cantrip felt that she had to deal with a very self-willed young lady indeed.
So … if Trollope had not (in so-called “real life”) advocated for the pillar-box, who knows what might — or might not — have happened? Would Mary have been able to navigate her way to the actual brick-and-mortar post office, unescorted as she would likely have had to be? Who knows? They do say “Amor vincit omnia” … but isn’t it nice that the Trollope with the day job was able to give Mary a helping hand?
Intrepid readers of this blog may recall that some years back, I wrote a review of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I was very impressed. If I may quote myself:
I ended up thinking this was one of the most worthwhile novels I’d ever read … and perhaps the most intellectually challenging, to boot.
I just recently finished my second Mann — Doctor Faustus. (I mainly used the Lowe-Porter English translation, but often consulted the German original. See my blog post “Dual language e-reader” for details on how I do this.) This work likewise made a deep impression on me. Most memorably, since I’m a classical musician, I was very struck with Mann’s knowledge in this area … in some respects perhaps exceeding even mine. 🙂 (Since Adrian Leverkühn, Mann’s protagonist, is a composer, there is ample opportunity for musical discussions.) I actually can’t think of any other novel which is so intelligent in its treatment of classical music. In my reading notes, I jotted down a list of music-related passages which I intend to follow up on …
And then (as in The Magic Mountain) there is the parade of philosophical ideas. And various literary references. Since I feel overwhelmed when I think of even summarizing all of this, I will discourse upon only one toe of the elephant at hand. I hope you will not feel too much like one of the famous blind men in the tale … but you do know how you can go about remedying that situation. 🙂
The hero-composer Leverkühn is, we see, at one point occupied by the project of setting, for marionette theatre (!), a selection of stories from Gesta Romanorum. (In one of the novel’s correspondences with reality, the orchestration for this piece matches that of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat.) Of course you can get details in the Wikipedia article on Gesta, but to summarize, this work (hitherto unknown to me) was a collection of stories, in Latin, compiled in about the year 1300. (The title, Deeds of the Romans, is misleading, since only some of the tales originate in classical Rome.) Surmised to have been put together by a clergy-person as a manual for preachers, it is ostensibly produced for moral instruction. Gesta was a best-seller in its time. Very shortly, below, you will get an idea of why …
Mann includes in Chapter 31 of Doctor Faustus, Tale XXVIII of the Gesta, which I will reproduce below as he renders it (in my Lowe-Porter translation). This story especially caught my attention, since I am currently in a reading (out loud) group that is wending its way through Giovanni Boccaccio’s own collection of tales, The Decameron (ca. 1353). As Mann suggests, Boccaccio very likely found inspiration for some of his often-raunchy stories in the piously-framed Gesta.
If you intend to read the following narrative aloud, please remove youngsters, and those with delicate sensibilities, from the room before proceeding further! You have been warned …
There is for instance the fundamentally unmoral fable, anticipating the Decameron, “of the godless guile of old women,” wherein an accomplice of guilty passion, under a mask of sanctity succeeds in persuading a noble and even exceptionally decent and honourable wife, while her confiding husband is gone on a journey, that she is sinfully minded to a youth who is consumed with desire for her. The witch makes her little bitch [dog!] fast for two days, and then gives it bread spread with mustard to eat, which causes the little animal to shed copious tears. Then she takes it to the virtuous lady, who receives her respectfully, since everybody supposes she is a saint. But when the lady looks at the weeping little bitch and asks in surprise what causes its tears, the old woman behaves as though she would rather not answer. When pressed to speak, she confesses that this little dog is actually her own all-too-chaste daughter, who by reason of the unbending denial of her favour to a young man on fire for her had driven him to his death; and now, in punishment therefor, she has been turned into this shape and of course constantly weeps tears of despair over her doggish estate. Telling these deliberate lies, the procuress weeps too, but the lady is horrified at the thought of the similarity of her own case with that of the little dog and tells the old woman of the youth who suffers for her. Thereupon the woman puts it seriously before her what an irretrievable pity it would be if she too were to be turned into a little dog; and is then commissioned to fetch the groaning suitor that in God’s name he may cool his lust, so that the two at the instance of a godless trick celebrate the sweetest adultery.
Oh yes, one more tiny detail. Mann just happens to omit the Moralizacio, the moral lesson that the Gesta places after the story proper (or shall we say the story improper?). Evidently this is supposed to make everything just peachy …
My beloved, the knight [the husband] is Christ; the wife is the soul, to which God gave free will. It is invited to the feast of carnal pleasures, where a youth — that is, the vanity or the world — becomes enamoured of it. The old woman is the devil ; the dog, the hope of a long life, and the presumptuous belief of God’s clemency, which lead us to deceive and soothe the soul.
Of course Boccaccio spins his spicy Decameron tales with no such moral lessons to come in as the Deus Ex Machina at the end. Which is why the Church tried to ban the work. (It was too popular though, so a “corrected”, i.e. expurgated edition was created instead, which the Church tried to fob off on the populace at large.)
I now have learned that the Gesta Romanorum tales have echoed down through the centuries, not only influencing Boccaccio, but being re-presented in works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, to name only the two most world-class names. Thanks to Herr Mann for this engrossing, thought-provoking novel, which among so much else, yields such rich pathways into the literary past!
Much as I would like to denounce the smartphone as the nemesis of literature, with nary a redeeming quality …
The iPhone has a (free) “Podcasts” app available. If I search a bit on this app, I can find a (free) podcast (but really an audiobook) of Gibbon’s DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. A book I might never get to, in its printed form. (Impure reader as that may make me.)
If you “subscribe” to the podcast, the app even goes automatically to the next section, when it gets to the end of the one you’ve been listening to. And it remembers where you left off, when you come back to listen later.
So… a neat way to access a great work one might not otherwise read … while doing your laundry or whatever.
Red Sorghum is a rather long novel, at 359 pages. Most of it is taken up with scenes of violence, much of the violence being rendered in graphic detail. Reading it was not easy for me. Yet, I found that the rewards far outweighed the difficulties.
Published in 1986, this is a multi-generational family chronicle that takes place in China, from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. Much of the bloodshed arises from the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), during which the Japanese invaded China and perpertrated many atrocities. Between 10 and 25 million Chinese civilians perished in this war. As if that were not enough, violent confrontations also occur, in this novel, between rival Chinese groups.
But now to get to the side of the book that just didn’t let me give up on it. To start, there is how the storytelling flows back and forth, non-chronologically. A character might come to an unfortunate end, … but can happily come to life again later in the narrative, when we are at an earlier point in time. In a way, memory triumphs over mortality.
Then there is the “inside” view of the Chinese mentality that we get from a Chinese novelist, writing about his own country. The view there of an individual life (based on their huge population) seems rather different from the Western outlook:
The old man with the dark face and white beard shouted, “What are you crying for? This was a great victory! There are four hundred million of us Chinese. If we take on the Japs, one on one, how do you think their little country will fare? If one hundred million of us fought them to the death, they’d be wiped out, but there’d still be three hundred million of us. That makes us the victors, doesn’t it? Commander Yu , this was a crushing victory!”
“Old uncle, you’re just saying that to make me feel good.”
“No, Commander Yu, it really was a great victory. Give the order; tell us what to do. China may have nothing else, but it’s got plenty of people.”
Also … I had certainly heard of foot-binding before. Even after reading this book, it still seems barbaric to me. But now, like the books’s narrator, perhaps I have a slightly more nuanced view. These women do have a special quality to their walk …
A yard in length, the cloth bindings were wound around all but the big toes until the bones cracked and the toes turned under. The pain was excruciating. My mother also had bound feet, and just seeing them saddened me so much that I felt compelled to shout: ‘Down with feudalism! Long live liberated feet!’ The results of Grandma’s suffering were two three-inch golden lotuses, and by the age of sixteen she had grown into a well-developed beauty. When she walked, swinging her arms freely, her body swayed like a willow in the wind. 
And then (though not specific to the Chinese) there are the dogs! There is a section many pages long, in which the behavior of a pack of dogs is chronicled in detail. (Indeed, one of the book’s five parts is called “Dog Ways”.) I will admit that what the dogs are actually engaged in is rather horrible. (Think of the dead on a battlefield, and you will probably get the idea.) But the writing is totally absorbing. One feels (with due respect to the author) that an actual canine is narrating this section! You may get a small idea from this excerpt:
One of the battles [for domination of the pack] occurred when a dog in Green’s brigade, an impudent male with thick lips, bulging eyes, and a coat of bluish fur, took liberties with a pretty spotted-faced female who was one of Red’s favourites. Infuriated, Red charged the motley male and knocked him into the river. After climbing out and shaking the water off his fur, Thick Lips launched into an angry tirade, which earned him the jeers of the other dogs.
Green barked loudly at Red to defend the honour of his brigade, but Red ignored him and knocked the motley cur back into the river. As he swam back to shore, his nostrils skimming the surface, he looked like a huge river rat. The spotted-faced female stood beside Red, wagging her tail.
Green barked contemptuously at Red, who returned the insult.
One must surely mention the sorghum, which one sees in the book’s title … and just about everywhere in the novel.
Mo Yan himself admits that he has been greatly influenced by William Faulkner. Just as Faulkner has his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, so Mo Yan has his (semi-fictional) Northeast Gaomi Township. The main activity there is growing sorghum, a grain used for food, and also to make “sorghum wine” — so called in the novel, but actually a distilled spirit called “baijiu”.
Making this “wine” is the occupation engaged in by the central family in the book. But beyond that, sorghum is the central “leitmotif” of the novel. It is constantly mentioned in all kinds of metaphorical constructions, … but somehow instead of being annoying, this reader (at least) felt it as a strong unifiying element that helps us gain distance from narrative that can be hard to assimilate, because it is so painful. At the end of the book, we gain some understanding as to why the red sorghum was so much on the narrator’s mind:
The sorghum that looked like a sea of blood, whose praises I have sung over and over, has been drowned in a raging flood of revolution and no longer exists, replaced by short-stalked, thick-stemmed, broad-leafed plants covered by a white powder and topped by beards as long as dogs’ tails. High yield, with a bitter, astringent taste, it is the source of rampant constipation. With the exception of cadres above the rank of branch secretary, all the villagers’ faces are the colour of rusty iron.
More than just being itself, the red sorghum is symbolic of the glorious past.
Along with Faulkner, Mo Yan also claims Gabriel García Márquez as an influence; and indeed, Red Sorghum has been cited as an example of “magic realism”. Events that in ordinary life would be unbearably painful are transmuted into richer, more complex things. Example: near the end of the book, a female character, evidently near death, appears to have gone berserk, mouthing abuse and cursing the family around her. But it turns out that an evil spirit has taken possession of her body. Finally, a Taoist has to be summoned from the village to exorcise the demon!
Red Sorghum was originally written in Chinese. I read the able translation by Howard Goldblatt. I don’t normally read translated books (having the purist position that it’s “like taking a shower with a raincoat on”),  but an experience like this shows me how much I might, generally, be missing …
Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012. At the end of his Nobel lecture, he tells a story that I’d like to repeat here. It has nothing to do with Red Sorghum! I just like the story a lot:
Bear with me, please, for one last story, one my grandfather told me many years ago: A group of eight out-of-town bricklayers took refuge from a storm in a rundown temple. Thunder rumbled outside, sending fireballs their way. They even heard what sounded like dragon shrieks. The men were terrified, their faces ashen. “Among the eight of us,” one of them said, “is someone who must have offended the heavens with a terrible deed. The guilty person ought to volunteer to step outside to accept his punishment and spare the innocent from suffering.” Naturally, there were no volunteers. So one of the others came up with a proposal: “Since no one is willing to go outside, let’s all fling our straw hats toward the door. Whoever’s hat flies out through the temple door is the guilty party, and we’ll ask him to go out and accept his punishment.” So they flung their hats toward the door. Seven hats were blown back inside; one went out the door. They pressured the eighth man to go out and accept his punishment, and when he balked, they picked him up and flung him out the door. I’ll bet you all know how the story ends: They had no sooner flung him out the door than the temple collapsed around them.
 Though foot binding was banned in 1912 by the new Republic of China government, the practice continued in some rural areas till about mid-century.
 “Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.” Though of course I am not talking about poetry here, this aphorism came to mind. I encountered it in the 2016 movie Paterson. I feel like it has been around longer, but cannot find an earlier source.
Well OK, not really a secret. I just don’t like to read about books before reading them, due to my morbid fear of “spoilers”. And Wilkie Collins has never been on my go-to list of Victorian novelists. I might not have gotten to him at all, were it not for a scrawled note in the little notebook I always carry, to firm up my leaky memory. I don’t remember who or what supplied me with this lead, but as the saying goes, I will forever be grateful.
As for what led me to this particular book of his: I knew that The Woman in White and The Moonstone were his best-known novels. And since (all things being equal) I like to read an author’s works in chronological order, I chose the earlier TWIW (1860).
After I had been reading TWIW for a time, I made the note
poster child of STICK W THE BK
In other words, I experienced that wonderful (well, to me) feeling of having input persistence, patience, and observation without much immediate reward … only to have that reward finally come, and in spades.
What put me off initially? One thing was that very early on, we meet Professor Pesca, a good friend of the protagonist Walter Hartright. Pesca, from Italy, is shown as an excessively enthusiastic fellow who excessively bubbles over, cheerfully mangling the English language as he goes along. He recalls some of Walter Scott’s “sidekick” characters (probably speaking in some deep Scottish dialect) who are evidently inserted into the narrative to add “color” and “humor”. As you may have surmised, I tend not to be too fond of these fellows. (Though I am really a Scott partisan; see my review of Rob Roy.) Anyway, as it turns out, I had to eventually revise my appraisal of Pesca … which is, I hope, enough said to tantalize but not to give anything away.
There are other aspects of TWIW that would perhaps also fall into the “old fashioned” category, and that put me off for a while. There is a melodramatic cast to things, characters being either very good or … very much the other way. The surroundings for a given scene are set up so as to enhance the story; for example, you can imagine what kind of events might transpire given this scene:
It is a still, sultry, moonless night. The stars are dull and few. The trees that shut out the view on all sides look dimly black and solid in the distance, like a great wall of rock. I hear the croaking of frogs, faint and far off, and the echoes of the great clock hum in the airless calm long after the strokes have ceased. I wonder how Blackwater Park will look in the daytime? I don’t altogether like it by night.
Now for the good news. Or, as I noted succinctly at the time,
SPIN STRAW INTO GOLD
What was this gold I was now finding? Firstly, a very unusual story. TWIW is a murder mystery that’s … well, not quite a murder mystery. (I don’t mean to confuse, just to tantalize without giving away the store.) The freshness one feels reading this, might connect to Collins being a pioneer. TWIW is regarded as one of the very first mystery (or detective) novels. By anyone. (Note the “novel” qualification; Edgar Allan Poe had already penned “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841, but that was a short story.) On top of that, TWIW is known as the first “sensation novel”. I hadn’t been aware of this category, but it seems that sensation novels were big in Great Britain in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Like everything, there is a Wikipedia article for this subject, and you could pursue it there, but I will just mention the keywords Secret, Crime, Romance, Melodrama, Gothic. (But unlike gothic fiction, the story of the “sensation novel” is given more realism by being placed in a true-to-modern-life setting.)
So, TWIW is an early example of both the Mystery novel, and the Sensation novel. And it is regarded as one of the best in each category. It is noteworthy that pioneering works in a given genre can quite often emerge later as one of the greatest in their genre. (Doesn’t this seem to fly in the face of common sense notions of things originating “rough”, and subsequently improving?) The example that comes to my mind first is Don Quixote, one of the earliest novels, but also one that has been considered the greatest novel ever. [See, for example, the Guardian list, which incidentally places TWIW as #23.]
To come back now, to my own personal reactions to TWIW. Two things stand out positively. Firstly, Collins’ ingenious method of narration. The story is initially related by Walter Hartright. But when it becomes more appropriate for someone else — who was an eye-witness to the subsequent events — to tell the story, then that person becomes the narrator. I was initially disappointed to see this, since I like to “bond” with a central character, so might be sorry to see him walk off stage; but Collins’ narration plan ends up working beautifully. Not only does it give a great sense of verisimilitude, but it creates variety in a long novel that else might turn wearying.
Secondly, Collins writes with great skill. Reading his prose can be a pleasure in its own right. I should perhaps have noted several examples, but just recorded one, which seems very deft in its arrangement of words:
I am to ask a personal favour, for the first time in my life, and to ask it of the man of all others to whom I least desire to owe a serious obligation of any kind.
So … if you are ever hankering for a novel that’s “modern” in the sense of being a mystery story, but also one of the best products of another age, I hope you will give The Woman in White a try. It is not a short read, but if you are at all like me, you will soon be expertly swept along by many successive voices, taking turns in relating a devilishly clever plot.
I have long been interested in giving variety to my reading choices, so over the years I have accumulated a repertoire of tools that would give me new ideas for books to delve into. In no special order,
Friends. Of course. But I always wish I had more people in my life who share my reading patterns. In our Internet age, Facebook has helped. (Strangely enough, I have not had much luck, in recent years, with online literary discussion groups.)
Publications I read. The New York Review of Books has been fruitful. The New York Times, not so much. (I have never had any great love for their Sunday Book Review section … though admittedly, I have not checked it out in quite a while.)
Public libraries. Especially the “new books”, “classics”, and “mystery” sections. Often these days, I will just note down a book of interest, and download it to my e-reader later, from another source.
Bookstores. They can also of course supply information — though some new-book vendors can succumb to the faddish in their stock. I used to haunt used-book shops. I still remember that fateful moment when a sales person at New Haven’s Paperback Trader made me aware of Ed McBain and his police procedurals …
Thrift shops. This also is past rather than present. But I am nostalgic for these funky storefronts that almost always had a couple of racks of books somewhere in the back …
“Greatest” lists. “Best novels of the twentieth century”, “Greatest police procedural writers”, etc. Easy to Google these, in various flavors.
Wikipedia articles, e.g. “Mystery fiction”, “Victorian literature”, etc, etc.
References to other writers, in novels I am currently reading. I think that often this is a way of paying homage. I believe I found Lindsey Davis’ series of ancient-Rome mysteries in this fashion.
Literary calendars. At least in printed form, this is a beast that unfortunately seems to have gone extinct some years ago. Perhaps this is related to the rise of the Internet, … but online versions have been hard to come by. (SUGGESTIONS WELCOME.)
One such defunct printed calendar was “On Writers and Writing”. An instance from a year long gone still survives on Amazon:
Every week, you could turn the page to read about a different author. To my liking, it emphasized “literary” writers, delving back into former decades and centuries. I might be reminded about a writer I had once enjoyed … or perhaps told of one who was unfamiliar to me.
My current choice for literary calendar is Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac”. Though I don’t consider myself as a bona-fide writer, this doesn’t deter me from my visits. 🙂 There is a new “page” to read every day. (Or, as you can see, to listen to instead if you wish.) Things always start with a poem:
Following this, there are a number of descriptive entries, tailored to the current date, e.g.
Unfortunately for my purposes, not all the entries are about writers, … though many of them are. If I see a name that intrigues me, I may follow up by reading the Wikipedia article on the given person. There is also the (happily online) Columbia Encyclopedia, with a succinct (and usually spoiler-free) account of the writer in question. Usually these sources are a help to me in deciding which of this author’s books I should start with. (Sometimes it will be the most celebrated one. But often I will choose the work written the earliest … especially if it is part of a series.)
Can anyone suggest other places to get reading ideas? For instance, are there any websites (or apps) that, if you input your reading tastes (Authors A, B, C), will suggest that you should try Author D?
For a while now, I have been reading Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Redux. I will admit that it’s not the most engrossing book I’ve ever read. But I am keeping at it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, though its coverage of Victorian politics is (to me) mostly forgettable, its dialogue is sparkling. Secondly, I am working my way through Trollope’s “Palliser” series, and I don’t want to disturb the continuity by aborting my reading of this volume.
Since my attention is not riveted, I find myself digressing at times, to think about particular words that Trollope makes use of, and possible differences in their meaning (or shades of meaning) between 1873 (when PR was published) and the present. Take this letter embedded in the novel, from a young woman, to the man she is engaged to. I will reproduce only the ending:
I shall send this to your club, and I hope that it will reach you. I suppose that you are in London.
Good-bye, dearest Gerard.
Yours most affectionately,
If there is anything that troubles you, pray tell me. I ask you because I think it would be better for you that I should know. I sometimes think that you would have written if there had not been some misfortune.
God bless you.
I started thinking about the “Good-bye” in “Good-bye, dearest Gerard”. I had some inkling that “good-bye” came from “God be with you”, but wasn’t sure when or how that transition occurred. As usual in such cases, I consulted the mighty (unabridged, of course), unique, and almost unfathomable … Oxford English Dictionary.
Being “on historical principles”, its principal claim to greatness — for me at least — is that it provides examples of the usage of a word (or phrase) down through the hundreds (nay thousands) of years that the English language has existed. The first such quotation represents the earliest known use of the given word. (And in the case of obsolete terms, the last quotation is from the period when the term was last in use.)
Before actually looking up “good-bye”, I tried to guess (as is my custom) when the word first appeared. Or more precisely (in this case) when the first appearance of the modern “good-bye” — approximately so spelled — took place. My guess was around the beginning of the 1700’s. Here is the relevant part of the OED’s “good-bye” entry … which, as usual, clearly delineates the evolution of spelling, and meaning. You will be able to see if I was correct in my “timing” guess, or not:
. . . . . . .
1.1 As an exclamation: A form of address at parting; farewell. Also in”to bid”, “say good bye” (to).
1588 Shakes. L.L.L. iii. i. 151, I thanke your worship, God be wy you.
1591 ? 1 Hen. VI, iii. ii. 73 God b’uy my Lord.
1600 Heywood 2 Edw. IV, Wks. (1874) I. 141 Gallants, God buoye all.
1602 Shakes. Ham. ii. ii. 575, I so, God buy’ ye [1604 Qo. 2 God buy to you].
1607 Middleton & Dekker Roaring Girl D j b, Farewell. God b’y you Mistresse Gallipot.
a 1652 Brome City Wit i. ii. Wks. 1873 I. 289 Heartily Godbuy, good Mr. Crasy.
a 1659 Cleveland Lond. Lady 54 But mum for that, his strength will scarce supply His Back to the Balcona, so God b’ wy.
[1668 Pepys Diary 6 Aug., To Mr. Wren, to bid him ‘God be with you!’]
1694 Acc. Sev. Late Voy. ii. 152 He flings up his tail..and so bids us good-b’wy.
1707 E. Ward Hud. Rediv. II. ii. 6 So to a Feast should I invite ye You’d stuff your Guts, and cry, Good bwi’t’ye.
1719 D’Urfey Pills III. 135 Good B’ w’ ‘y! with all my Heart.
1811 W. R. Spencer Poems 141 When How-d’y-do has failed to move, Good-bye reveals the passion! [emphasis mine]
1818 Byron Juan i. ccxxi, And so your humble servant, and good-b’ye!
1860 Tyndall Glac. i. xviii. 122 We then bade Ulrich good-bye, and went forward.
1874 F. C. Burnand My time x. 87 Then he said good-bye to me..and so left me.
As in the case of many other words, Shakespeare seems to be the first source. (Though, to be sure, “God be wy you” still seems more like a phrase than an actual word. Also note that the first given source of the NOUN “good-bye”, not shown here — as distinguished from the exclamation we are discussing — is a letter written by one G. Harvey in 1573.) In any event, you will see that my guess about the 1700’s was wrong; in fact, “Good-bye”, so spelled, first arises in a poem by W.R. Spencer, in 1811! (Note that this is NOT the same writer as the more celebrated Edmund Spenser, who along with spelling his last name differently, lived in the 16th century.)
Let us come back to the Trollope for a minute. After I absorbed the OED information, Adelaide’s “Good-bye”, in her letter, seemed different than the plain “farewell” I had construed it to be at first. I believe that there really still is an element of the “God be with you” sense here. First of all, it seems a bit odd to bid a overt “farewell” to another person when you write to them (especially if you are attached to them); after all you have not been physically together with them. Secondly, consider the “God bless you” at the letter’s very end. It seems to resonate with the “God be with you” aspect of the “Good-bye”.
OK, so let us now bid Good-bye to that little digression … and let us march bravely forward with Phineas Redux!
Update 16feb2016: I am very glad that I stuck with Phineas Redux. A bit more than halfway through, a dramatic event occurs … and the book catches fire!
I’m normally a reader of literature originally written in English. This is because I feel that the “texture” of a written work is very important, and that comes from the inimitable nature of the original language the book was written in. However, recently I decided to venture afield, and tackle the great Balzac. This wasn’t the first time I’ve read him, but — in line with my more recent purism about chronology — I decided to read one of his first (even if not most celebrated) Human Comedy novels, At the Sign of the Cat and Racket. Or, to revert to the original, respectively La Comedie Humaine, and La Maison du Chat-Qui-Pelote.
Since I don’t fluently read French, my initial impulse was simply to read a (bearable) English translation. But then I had a Vision. “Tom,” says the vision, “since you did have a few years of French in school, why not put it to use? Make yourself a home-brewed Dual Language edition of Cat and Racket / Chat-Qui-Pelote!
I had the raw materials ready at hand. For an e-reader I have a Nook Simple Touch (NST). (Regrettably, this model has been discontinued by Barnes & Noble, but I am sure it’s still widely available around the Internet.) The magnificent thing about this e-reader is that it is possible — and quite easy — to “ROOT” it. This is the techie term for gaining access to its Android operating system, so that one can break the stranglehold Barnes & Noble has put on the device. Once the NST is rooted, one can install lots of “Apps” on it — and in effect, run it as a regular Android tablet. (Apparently one can even play Angry Birds on it … though I would not recommend that, given the limitations of the e-ink screen.)
The magic recipe for rooting the NST — which involves installing “NookManager” — can be found at
Now, let me explain how I created my dual-language e-reader. For a long time, I’ve had Aldiko reader installed on my NST. This is the reading app I habitually use. (Note that recent versions of Aldiko — and other Android apps as well — may not work on the NST, which only has version 2.1 of Android. My Aldiko version seems to be 2.0 … though it might also be worth trying 2.1.0 , etc.) However, to quickly switch from English to French e-books, I needed a second reading app. The one that worked the best was Cool Reader (version 3.1.2-69).
Here is what the English version of the Balzac looks like on my NST:
Note the 4 strip-like “buttons” to the left and right of the NST screen. Their default function is “next page” or “previous page”. But one nice feature of NookManager is that it includes an app called “Nook Touch Mod Manager”. Using its “Modify Button Actions” option, one can assign any app one chooses to these 4 buttons. (One can still turn pages by pressing on the touch screen.) I have the upper-right button assigned to Aldiko reader, which yields the English version of the Balzac, as you can see above. The French edition is sitting in Cool Reader, which I’ve assigned to the lower-right button. When I press that button, I immediately get the French version:
It just takes one button press to toggle between the 2 languages. And each toggle brings me right back to the place where I was last reading, in the given language.
In this way, I recently got through Cat/Chat with much enjoyment. I absorbed as much as I could from the French version (the texture, style, cadence of the language). For the more difficult words, and to read quicker when I got impatient, I reverted to the English edition.
As far as my text sources are concerned … it is worth noting that the entire, mammoth, Human Comedy is available (in English) at
I am looking forward to more dual-language adventures. I’ve heard so much about what a great and influential work Dante’s Divine Comedy / Divina Commedia is. Even though I’ve never formally studied Italian, I still might make it my next dual-language project …
By the end of the 19th century, no book in English literary history had enjoyed more editions, spin-offs and translations. Crusoe’s world-famous novel is a complex literary confection, and it’s irresistible.
Clarissa is a tragic heroine, pressured by her unscrupulous nouveau-riche family to marry a wealthy man she detests, in the book that Samuel Johnson described as “the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart.”
I just re-visited this great 1951 Hitchcock classic the night before last. It’s based on the novel of the same name, by Paticia Highsmith. I’m not sure if I’ve read this novel. I know I did read, with enjoyment, her The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), This is the first in her Ripley series, and, like Strangers, is a psychological crime thriller probing into a truly twisted mind. (If you are a fan of Ruth Rendell, you are pretty likely to enjoy Highsmith as well.)
In reading a 2004 Roger Ebert review of Strangers, after my recent viewing of the movie, I came across the following passage:
There’s an intriguing note from a user of the Internet Movie Database, claiming to have spotted Highsmith in a cameo in the film. She’s behind Miriam in the early scene in the record store, writing something in a notebook. No Highsmith cameo has even been reported in the movie’s lore (all the attention goes to Hitchcock’s trademark cameo) but you can look for yourself, in chapter six of the DVD, 12 minutes and 16 seconds into the running time. To think she may have been haunting it all of these years.
My own timing of this possible Highsmith sighting is a bit earlier. Here’s a still from 11:56 into the film:
Now the $64 question: Is this indeed Patricia Highsmith? Born in 1921, she would have been about 30 years old at the time. Here, courtesy of Google Images, are some Highsmith photos:
Maybe there’s some wishful thinking here. But I think it is possible that the record-store clerk is indeed Highsmith.
To give a contrary view, here is a quote from Gene D. Phillips’ 2012 book, Out of the Shadows: Expanding the Canon of Classic Film Noir:
Some cinephiles claim to have discovered that, twelve minutes into Strangers on a Train, a previously unnoticed figure standing behind Miriam in the early scene in the music store where she is employed is Patricia Highsmith herself, looking into a notebook. But Highsmith was twenty-nine when the film was shot, and the lady standing behind Miriam is clearly middle aged. Besides, Highsmith declined Hitchcock’s invitation to visit the set during shooting. [Phillips cites Schenkar, The Talented Miss Highsmith, 2009, p. 275 for this information.] So there is no Highsmith cameo in Strangers on a Train.
“Clearly middle aged”? I’m not sure I’d go along with that. (But could Phillips actually be looking, mistakenly, at the 12:16 mentioned by Ebert, which indeed does show a middle-aged woman in the background?) And — as for Highsmith allegedly not visiting the set — perhaps the cameo was carefully arranged to be a surprise? (No, I would not bet all my money on this, but one can dream…)
As some post I came across suggested, someone should ask Pat Hitchcock — alive and well in California — who the cameo woman really is. Maybe I will.
Here is Pat Hitchcock as the senator’s young daughter in Strangers on a Train. In reality, of course, she is Hitchcock’s daughter. (If you watch the film, you will find out how important those glasses are.)