28 September 2012

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne's Le Gamin au vélo / The Kid with a Bike (2011)

Le Gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike) perhaps immediately calls to mind Vittorio De Sica's neo-realist Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) (1948), although I'm reminded far more of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist.
 
The film is set in a rather bleak Seraing in Belgium. Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret) is an unruly eleven- or twelve-year-old in a children's home who is desperately seeking his father. By chance Samantha (Cécile de France), a youngish hairdresser (and the modern equivalent of Mr Brownlow) begins to foster him. But after learning that his father has rejected him, Cyril soon falls into the clutches of Wes (Egon di Mateo), the Fagin-type father figure who teaches him to steal. After a rather unconvincing botched robbery in which Cyril knocks a father and son out in unintended cartoon fashion (and with which Luc Dardenne finds some similarity to Raskolnikov's actions in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment), he finally recognises Samantha as a substitute mother and seems to be moving toward a kind of happiness with her.
 
Bearing in mind the subject matter, this could have turned dangerously sentimental but with the Dardenne brothers handling it that problem is avoided.

27 September 2012

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer's Grave in Edwinstowe (2012 update)

I've just received an email with the really good news that the grave of the writer Ebenezer Cobham Brewer in St Mary's churchyard in Edwinstowe has now been restored. In April 2010 I posted a few shots of the vandalized grave, and the same August I followed up with another post, this time with a photo of Brewer's ghostly face hovering over the graveyard. That inventive photo was created by Edwinstowe local and retired professional photographer Alan Smith, the same person who sent me the email and who took the above photo. Many thanks, Alan.

As yet we don't know who did this good deed, but I'll add the information when I find out.

Below are links to my other two posts.


Addendum: Alan now informs me:

'The works were added to an existing programme of headstone repairs at a number of closed churchyards and were included in the overall cost of £42,000. Authorized by Phil Beard, Business Manager – Parks & Amenities, Newark & Sherwood District Council. The repairs were carried out under the main contract by D & M Monumental Masons from Arnold. – it was free of charge believe it or not.'

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The Rev Dr Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, and Edwinstowe
Ebenezer Cobham Brewer in Edwinstowe (revisited)

26 September 2012

Hesperus Press Announces Its 'Uncover a Classic' Competition Winner

 
Elizabeth Madox Roberts (1881–1941)
 
Last May I mentioned the competition run by Hesperus Press for nominations for the re-publication of a classic novel. The winner has just been announced, and he is Michael Wynne, who is a writer based in Dublin and who nominated Elizabeth Madox Roberts's The Great Meadow.
 
The Great Meadow was originally published in 1930 and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. It's a historical novel set in Roberts's native Kentucky and will be published by Hesperus next month, on 31 October. There is more information below in the link to the press release.
 
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22 September 2012

C. K. Stead: All Visitors Ashore (1984)

In 1955 Janet Frame went to live in an old army hut in the garden of Frank Sargeson's bach in Esmonde Road, Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand. Karl Stead (who publishes as C. K. Stead) and his wife Kay were frequent visitors there. Thirty years later Stead, an academic and a creative writer, wrote All Visitors Ashore, which is a fictionalized account of some of the characters and events that took place in that social circle at the time.
 
But Stead sets the novel in 1951, a crucial year in the politics of New Zealand, when the waterfront dispute was dominating the news. This forms the backcloth to the story, whose main character is the young academic writer Curl Skidmore (similar to C. K. Stead, whose first and last initals he shares), who goes to see the fiftyish artist Melior Farbro, who is gay, grows vegetables, has a limp, and is very fond of Ken Clayburn who likes the horses (similar to the writer Frank Sargeson, who had a longtime friend Harry Doyle who used to train horses), and Cecilia Skywards, who is living in Frank's hut in the garden and used to live in a convent but not really as it was a mental hospital, and is writing a novel called Memoirs of a Railway Siding (similar to Janet Frame, whose father was a railway worker, although the novel was Owls Do Cry).
 
Often, the style the novel is written in is what can be described as modernist (Stead's PhD was on modernism) in that the breathless, very long and often sparsely punctuated sentences are internal monologues revealing a person's thoughts. Characters are frequently addressed as 'you', and the modernism often tips into postmodernism by the way the book selfconsciously sees itself being written, or the way the narrator, for instance in the post-abortion scene on the beach, has a conversation with Curl as he goes to get rid of the embryo remains in a jerry borrowed from his neighbour Nathan.
 
The book is funny and serious, farcical and tragic, ostentatiously clever but never infuriating. It's pretentious, sure, but what's wrong with that: some of the world's greatest writers are pretentious. Stead may not be among the greatest writers, but he's very good all the same.
 
Cecilia doesn't exactly come across in an wonderful light, but then Stead seems to have nurtured a mild twenty-year grudge against Frame for her short story 'The Triumph of Poetry', published in The Reservoir in 1964. Frame claimed that in this story (which concerns a prematurely balding academic whose life is in some respects similar to Stead's) she took her former Otago University teacher Gregor Cameron and the (invented) poet Karl Waikato for her inspiration, but the Steads found it too close to home for comfort. Frame had no complaints about the delayed retaliation.

19 September 2012

W. T. Stead on Victoria Embankment: London #34

 
This striking plaque is in front of HQS Wellington on Victoria Embankment, and bears the following breathless praise:
 
'W. T. STEAD

1849 – 1912

THIS MEMORIAL TO A JOVRNALIST
OF WIDE RENOWN WAS ERECTED
NEAR THE SPOT WHERE HE WORKED
FOR MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS BY
JOVRNALISTS OF MANY LANDS IN
RECOGNITION OF HIS BRILLIANT GIFTS
FERVENT SPIRIT & VNTIRING DEVOTION
TO THE SERVICE OF HIS FELLOW MEN'
 
These words initially seem to suggest a slightly different view from W. Sydney Robinson's biography of Stead: Muckraker: The Scandalous Life and Times of W. T. Stead: Britain's First Investigative Journalist (2012), and this suggestion would appear to be given more credence by the first two sentences of the publisher's blurb:
 
'First rocketing to fame when he 'purchased' a 13-year old girl as part of a campaign against child prostitution, W. T. Stead was the pioneer of investigative reporting. As criminal convict, Puritan, sex-fanatic, occultist, social reformer and stuntman, Stead's notoriety escalated throughout his life until his tragic death in the Titanic disaster. '
 
But then, Robinson in his Foreword calls him 'arguably the most important journalist of all time'. This sounds like a very interesting read – I shall have to find time for it.


Robert Burns in Greenwich and Victoria Embankment Gardens: London #33

The Scottish clipper Cutty Sark is in Greenwich and dates from 1869. It is named after Robert Burns's poem 'Tam o' Shanter' (1791), which concerns the drunken Tam going home and chancing upon a group of witches and warlocks dancing. He is captivated by the beautiful Nannie, a younger witch wearing a short skirt (or cutty-sark) that is revealing because she has outgrown it. He calls out to her, using 'Cutty-sark' as a name, they run towards him but he escapes on his horse, although not before Nannie pulls off its tail.

The figurehead is of course the beautiful witch holding the horse's tail, and although she's bare-breasted, her skirt doesn't seem to tally with Burns's description:

'Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longtitude tho' sorely scanty
It was her best, and she was vauntie'.


The most interesting way to cross back over the Thames is by taking the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
 
On the north side of the river, way to the west in Victoria Embankment Gardens, is a statue of Robert Burns. This was sculpted by John Steell (1804–1891) in 1884.
 
'ROBERT BURNS
1759–1796

"THE POETIC GENIUS OF MY COUNTRY FOUND ME AT THE
PLOUGH – AND THREW HER INSPIRING MANTLE OVER ME. SHE
BADE ME SING THE LOVES, THE JOYS, THE RURAL SCENES AND
RURAL PLEASURES OF MY NATIVE SOIL, IN MY NATIVE TONGUE:
I TUNED MY WILD, ARTLESS NOTES AS SHE INSPIRED."'

Spot the difference. I took this photo of Steell's statue in Central Park, New York City, several years ago. It was installed there in 1880 – four years before the one in Victoria Embankment Gardens. The City of New York Parks & Recreation website also informs me that the scroll is 'part of "To Mary in Heaven"'.
 
Below is a link to my photos of the statue in Dunedin, New Zealand:
 
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Robert Burns in Dunedin, New Zealand

Cross Bones Graveyard, Southwark: London #32

In Redcross Way, Southwark, there are locked gates festooned with ribbons, soft toys, poems, and comments.
 
'Cross Bones
Graveyard
 
In medieval times this was an unconsecrated
graveyard for prostitutes or "Winchester Geese"
By the 18th century it had become a paupers'
burial ground, which closed in 1853.
Here, people have created
a memorial shrine.
 
The Outcast Dead
R. I. P'.
 
This area of London was once known for its brothels, theatres, and other activities not allowed within the City of London, and about 15,000 burials of outsiders (prostitutes, the poor, etc) took place here.  The land was saved from being turned into a building site in 1883, and in the 1990s, when TfL (Transport for London), the owner of the land, was extending the Jubilee Line, the Museum of London Archaeology Service found many human remains. The Friends of Cross Bones are now campaigning for a memorial garden on the land from the gates to the south of the enclosed area.
 
A shrine created within the graveyard. Below, the images speak for themselves. The ribbons often bear names of the dead.
 
 
 
 
 
 
And below is a link to a short video posted on YouTube in which the writer John Constable, who has done so much to champion the official recognition of this outsiders' cemetery, holds forth. 
 
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The People of the Crossbones Graveyard

Dr Johnson, The Strand: London #31

 
This statue of Dr Samuel Johson stands to the east side of St Clement Danes, The Strand, which Johnson used to attend.
 
'SAMUEL JOHNSON
L . L. D
CRITIC  ESSAYIST PHILOLOGIST
DRAMATIST POLITICIAN WRITER TALKER
 
BORN
1709
 
DIED
1784
 
THE GIFT AND HANDIWORK OF
PERCY FITZGERALD, F. S. A.
AND ERECTED BY
THE REVD. S. PENNINGTON, M. A.
RECTOR OF ST CLEMENT DANES
1910.'
 
Among many other books, Percy Fitzgerald (1834–1925) wrote a biography of James Boswell (1740–95).
 
On the south side of the plinth is a representation of Boswell and Johnson, apparently at the time of their visit to the Hebrides. It was obviously cast from the same mould as another plaque of Fitzgerald's in Lichfield, Staffordshire, which was Johnson's birthplace.
 
On the north side, Johnson with Mrs Hester Thrale.
 
Below are links to two other posts I've made on Johnson.
 
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Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) and Lichfield, Staffordshire

Dr Johnson's House: London #22

18 September 2012

William Morris in Bexleyheath, Kent: London #30

 'RED HOUSE
built in 1859–1860
by Philip Webb, architect,
for
WILLIAM MORRIS
poet and artist
who lived here
1860–1865'
 
For Dante Gabriel Rossetti, this Victorian Gothic structure was 'more a poem than a house'.
 
William Morris (1834–96) married Jane (or Janey) Burden in April 1859, and moved here when his friend Webb had completed it the following year. The weather vane is inscribed 'WM 1859' with a horse's head at the side. Shown here is the Well Courtyard: the original intention was for a similar building at the side for Edward Burne-Jones and his family to live in, but it was not to be.

A closer view of the well with its very impressive roof.
 
The west elevation with the oriel window of particular note.
 
The north elevation, showing the main entrance.
 
Morris named the garden porch 'Pigrims' Rest' as this would have been near the route taken by Chaucer's Canterbury group.
 
The tiling behind the bench here is worth a closer look.
 
On some of the tiles, Morris's motto 'Si je puis' is curled round an oak tree, with his initial at the side.
 
But on most of the others it's the Tudor rose.
 
An early example of Morris's stained glass, with figures by Edward Burne-Jones.
 
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William Morris in Walthamstow: London #29

William Morris in Walthamstow: London #29

William Morris (1834–96) was born in Walthamstow and was the son of a well-to-do bill broker and mining speculator who left his family in a reduced, but nevertheless very comfortable, position when he died in 1847. Morris went to Marlborough College the next year, and the family moved to what was then known as Water House (above), which was smaller than their previous house.
 
'WILLIAM
MORRIS
1834–1896
LIVED HERE 1848–1856
EDWARD
LLOYD
PUBLISHER
LIVED HERE
1857–1885'
 
The house has been the William Morris Gallery since 1950, and is set in what is now Lloyd Park.*
 
There is a 40ft moat at the back of the house where the Morris children used to fish, and skate on in the winter. They played on the island, William delighting in dressing up as a medieval knight. 
 
*Lloyd Park was opened in the summer of 1900, with brass bands playing on the island. Subsequently, bands played every Sunday in August and September, the audience being so big that a second bridge had to be built.
 
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William Morris in Bexleyheath, Kent: London #30

17 September 2012

William Booth Birthplace Museum, Sneinton, Nottingham


William Booth (1829–1912), the founder of the Salvation Army, was born in this house in Notintone Place, Nottingham. This is now a museum not open at specific times, so I took advantage of the Heritage Open Day last week to visit it for the first time. 
This bust of William Booth is the first thing that greets the visitor in the entrance hall.
 
This room was perhaps the parlour, and, like several other rooms, has been furnished to give an idea of how a lower middle class household such that of Samuel and Mary's – the parents of William – would have looked. Here, guests would have been entertained and games played.
 
The kitchen.
 
Perhaps this would have been the nursery, the bedroom and playroom for the Booth children.
 
Perhaps the bedroom where William Booth was born.
 
In William's childhood his father Samuel was downwardly mobile and bankrupt by 1842. At 13 (two years before his conversion to Methodism) William was obliged to begin earning a living, and started by working for the pawnbroker Francis Eames.
 
William married Catherine Mumford (1829–90), who was to be known as 'mother of the Army', in 1855.
 
In a display cabinet in the museum is William's influential book In Darkest England and The Way Out (1890), which compared the social situation of industrial Britain to Africa.
 
In London, on a central reservation in Mile End Road near the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel, there are two monuments to Booth within less than 200 yards of each other.
 
'WILLIAM BOOTH
FOUNDER
AND
FIRST GENERAL
OF
THE SALVATION ARMY
 
COMMENCED THE WORK
OF
THE SALVATION ARMY
ON MILE END WASTE
JULY 1895.'
 
 
'HERE
WILLIAM BOOTH
COMMENCED THE WORK OF THE SALVATION ARMY
JULY 1865.'
 
 'THIS STATUE WAS UNVEILED BY
GENERAL ARNOLD BROWN L. H. D.
ON 10th APRIL 1979, IN WHICH
YEAR THE 150th BIRTHDAY
OF WILLIAM BOOTH WAS
INTERNATIONALLY CELEBRATED.'
 
Below are two more posts of mine on William Booth.
 
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William Booth in Sneinton, Nottingham, England

William Booth in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington