Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope
by Edith Stilwell
p. 1962
The Norton Library

      Alexander Pope was a poet/litteratur/wit in the early 18th century.   He kind of straddled the gap between  post-Elizabethan aristocrat pleasing verse and the more radical poetic visions of Wordsworth and De Quincey.  Pope surely suffers by being a pre-Romantic figure.  He is an Artist of the aristocracy, even though he himself was no aristocrat, and I think this biographical detaili provides an indelible taint to modern taste.  Also the work itself- famous poems like The Rape of the Lock or his collaborative literary effort Martin Scriberlus does not maintain an Audience outside the discipline of literature of history.

    The highest sales rating of ANY Alexander Pope biography is in the 3 millions for 1988's Alexander Pope: A Life by Maynard Mack.  The sales ranking for the #1 selling book by Pope is in the 500,000 range- for the 2009 Oxford World's Classic edition of Collected Works.  What I'm trying to say is that Alexander Pope has a small Audience.

   Before reading this biography I had heard about The Rape of the Lock, but didn't now anything.  Basically, it is what you call a "pastoral" or poem about the countryside- published sometime between 1812 and 1814, and a big part of the appeal was that it was "correct" - I suppose today we would call it "politically correct" in that it did not offend any political/cultural sensibilities.  This was a big difference between Pope and romantic poets like Wordsworth and De Quincey- who were much more outre in their exercise of  poetic license.

   Despite the lack of popular appeal, Pope was situated at a time and place:  London fashionable society in the early 18th century-  which is an objectively interesting milieu, standing as it does on the threshold of modern Art- whether it be literature, painting, architecture.   In all ways London in the early 18th century was on the cusp of Modernity, it just hadn't quite arrived.

  Pope, along with contemporaries/successors like Samuel Johnson or his bro Richard Gay (1), were transitional figures between art that is wholly pre-modern, and the beginnings of modern art.  They were kind of the seat ushers for the Romantic Movement spectacle- the back drop, if you will.   All of these transitional figures are characterized by use of forms like play writing, amateur theatrical performance, versifying and writing letters.  There is a kind of analogy to the nature of Pope's artistic output and the output of contemporary  multi-functional celebrities- Drawing attention in many fields of endeavor!  Arguably not producing any good Art!

  I guess there are people out there who think that The Rape of the Lock is a classic example of English Poetry from the 18th century and others who think Martin Scriberlus is an important step in the development of the Novel, but I highly out there are very many of either group.

  It's easy to see some kind of BBC/PBS/HBO kind of movie/series that deals with this scene.  There would be a lot of foppery- A LOT- it would be like glam rock in that aspect.   Unlike the Romantic poets- Pope and his circle were much into hanging out with fashionable ladies- who often paid the bills- this is an overlap with "Court Society" portraits of the early 18th century, and later artistic development would be a move away from that scene- a rejection of it.


(1)  Richard Gay is a book discovery winner.  He is like the original fancy lad- here is the description straight from Sitwell's text:

   He had a childlike delight in finery and good food.  He liked plenty of ribbons and a fine wig, and to stay at Bath where he was surrounded by beauties;  and those loves and tastes were a constant source of amusement to himself and to his friends, all of whom loved him with great devotion and laughed at him endlessly.

Friday, April 06, 2012


H. G. Wells

The Island of Dr. Moreau
by H.G. Wells
published in 1896
Project Guternberg EBook #159
Read on Ipad/Ebook

   Mostly people just know the Marlon Brandon starring film that is based on this novella.  Who can forget that creepy little guy up above?

  I think it fair to observe that Wells is the author who put the "science" in the term "science-fiction" in that he invented a category of fiction drawing inspiration from science as supposed to social interactions between rich people, history, or the renaissance era tradition of written wit.

  Today, science fiction and fantasy are lumped together as a single genre, or two sub categories- see Amazon where the category is "Science Fiction & Fantasy" and the sub-categories are Science Fiction, Fantasy and "Gaming."

  If The Time Machine is H.G. Wells contribution to the "time travel" category of sci-fi, The Island of Dr. Moreau is his contribution to the "bio-horror" category- best known today through the Sigorney Weaver Alien series of films.  Like The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau is a novella- about 150 pages long.

  On the whole, The Island of Dr. Moreau is more interesting the The Time Machine because the biology based man-animals of Dr. Moreau are more relevant then the class based evolution  featured in The Time Machine.  What is amazing is that both themes remain relevant to the point where they've been divorced from important source material in literature.

  Unlike The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau has some fairly indelible images- Wells' description of the man-beasts being foremost among them.  It's important to recognize that "horror" tropes related to the treatment of "monsters" were becoming well established in the late 19th century- Bram Stoker's  Dracula was published three years later(based on semi-published source material written by Lord Byron that dated back to the time Frankenstein was written by Mary Shelly), and Frankenstein itself had been out for more than half a century.  Poe had been out for more then a half century.

    The division of course, being between monsters of science and monsters of the supernatural- Frankenstein and Dr.  Moreau's creatures on one side of the room, Dracula, Werewolves and Ghosts on the other.  You get that kind of expansiveness in the word "monster" because in it's original meaning it covers all things not found in nature- including both the supernatural and any successors.  Monsters of science obviously succeed the monsters of the supernatural, but you would have to say the supernatural retains an upper hand with the Audience because of the strong association with Religion.

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