Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Little Women (1868) by Louisa May Alcott

Winona Ryder plays Jo March in the 1994 film version of Little Women

Book Review
Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
p. 1868-69

Guide to 19th Century American Literature

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin ,1899,  9/26/13
Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1885, 10/15/13
Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James ,1880 , 7/16/13
Book Review; Ben Hur by Lew Wallace,1880  6/13/13
Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,1869, 3/9/13
Book Review: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1860, 9/19/12
Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, 9/12/12
Book Review: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne,1851, 5/30/12
Book Review: Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851, 8/27/12
Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables,1851,  6/21/12
Book Review: The Pit and The Pendulum  1842, 3/28/12
Book Review: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, 1844, 3/27/12
Book Review: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839, 3/20/12
Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, 1826, 6/18/12

  I've known what photograph I was going to use to illustrate this book review: Winona Ryder playing "Jo March" in the 1994 film version of this immortal classic.  Little Women is most certainly both a CLASSIC and a HIT- with all the modern meanings of those terms: plays, films, remakes, sequels, sales measured in hundreds of thousands, international media attention.

  And while reading Little Women wasn't particularly fun, it's impossible not to admire the craft of what Louisa May Alcott put together and sold to an adoring public.  On the surface, Little Women is a tale about four sisters growing up during and after the Civil War: three marry, one dies and the character of Jo is essentially the "main" sister.

  The "adventures" such as they are closer to the era of Frances Burney and Ann Radcliffe than to Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, but Alcott had a supberb grasp of different literary idioms and manages to integrate literary devices that constitute an encyclopedia of 18th and 19th century Novelistic techniques.  Alcott throws in epistolary dialogues, picaresque travelogues of exotic locations (Italy), a healthy dose of sentimental fiction, and a detailed description of quiet domesticity that track more closely to the proto-literary modernism of George Eliot.  And it all added up to a huge, monster, gargantuan hit.

 Did you know that Alcott wrote like seven sequels to Little Women?  And that she never had another hit?  And that people make another film or tv version every few years?

Dirty Beaches Passes One Million Last Fm Plays


   The way I look at it, when an individual artist/band goes over a million plays on last fm it means that someone can earn a living- whether that someone is the Artist, a major label or a combination of the Artist and their manager, that is going to vary- but someone is going to be earning enough money to survive to make another record.

       If a band gets to that one million play threshold there should be enough income to support one or two primary song writers to the tune of about 20-30k a year.  From there, the idea should be to make to 50k then 100k as additional records are issued are additional tours are planned on a year to year basis.

  If a specific Act reaches that one million play level and can't support themselves there is a flaw somewhere: Either record labels that are overspending to get the Artist to the one million level, a touring show that doesn't live up to the recorded output or some kind of work ethic issues- something.

  Last FM doesn't capture every play of course, the Last Fm artist play count is a small fraction of the total plays- but it's probably close to being the same percentage of total plays for every Artist, which it makes the best proxy in the world for measuring total Audience for pop music act.

    But for me anyway the one million last fm plays is a huge, huge threshold.  Whoever the Artist maybe and whatever kind of music is being offered, you simply can't deny the existence of an Audience for a new record and/or tour on one or more continents.

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Dickens World

Jeremy Irvine playing Pip in the 2012 adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Book Review
The Dickens World
by Humphry House
Oxford Paperbacks No. 9
p. 1941

    Even though Charles Dickens was a huge popular success as soon as his books came out and in many ways the first  truly international literary celebrity (Sir Walter Scott didn't do a reading tour of the United States and Charles Dickens did); critical acclaim lagged by nearly a century.  During the early 20th century critical taste was with the sophisticated proto modernism of Henry James and the pure modernism of James Joyce- Dickens was considered to be merely a popular author.

 This began to change in the mid 20th century and The Dickens World by Humphry House- originally published by Oxford University Press in 1941- was one of the first works of criticism to take Dickens seriously without claiming that he was unduly sentimental/sappy/not worth serious thought.

Gillian Anderson playing Ms. Havisham in BBC 2012 adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations

  This leads to the question of how one rehabilitates or establishes the critical reputation of a popular artist a century after the author died.  House's The Dickens World is largely a project of establishing a context for obtaining a deeper understanding of the complexity of "The Dickens World."   Charles Dickens was writing classic hits for a couple decades and he was writing during a time of great change.

  Before critics started taking Dickens seriously it was held that he had a simplistic, sentimental view of the world and that this point of view made his characters and plots simplistic.  Certainly Dickens reflected the taste of the audience during the time he was writing, but the assertion of thematic simplicity is shown by House to be false.

  As the title implies, The Dickens World take the reader through the different aspects of existence in the early mid 19th century and how that influence Dickens writing.  Notable are chapters on "Religion" and two whole chapters on "Economy: Domestica and Political."   Chief among the observations that House makes is that Dickens started writing before money craziness took hold of society in the 1840s, and then he witnessed this change- and this made it's way into his fiction even though his characters APPEARED to identify with an older era.

  House also highlights how the morality of Dickens was a welcome contrast to the conventional morality of the period, and how Dickens competed successfully with the religious literature that dominated the literary marketplace prior to the emergence of the novel as a popular art form.

Other Posts About Charles Dickens On This Blog

Book Review:  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens11/20/14
Book Review: Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836 by George H. Ford. 3/25/13
Book Review: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, 3/17/13.
Book Review:  Dickens Worlds by Humphrey House, 3/8/13
Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, 9/21/12
Book Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 8/23/12
Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 7/17/12.
Book Review: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens, 6/19/12.
Book Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 6/7/12.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Touring Market: BENELUX


  "BENELUX" is actually an acronym... wait... not an acronym but a combination of the first syllables of BElgium, NEtherlands, LUXemburg = BENELUX.  I feel like I'm constantly defending this area as being worthwhile as an Audience.  Let me make the case.  First- market size: 30 million people.  You can hit the entire territory by playing 2 shows: Brussels and Amsterdam and there are multiple festival opportunities and secondary markets that you can play: your Gronigens, your Rotterdam's.

 Second: geography.  France may have 50 million people and Germany may have 60 million people but  BENELUX is between the two places.  It's also proximate to the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.

The imposing Brussels Palace of Justice: Who Doesn't Want to see such an Imposing Palace of Justice?

  Third: Quality cities.  Most people are familiar with the pleasures of Brussels and Amsterdam.  The manikin piece in Brussels- the stirring public buildings of the European Union Government- also in Brussels.   And of course Amsterdam, with her canals, and bicycles and the Rijksmuseum.  But Benelux isn't just primary markets- the secondary markets are worth a look:  Utrecht, Luxembourg and of course Groningen.   Personally, I have not been north of Alkmaar- which is essentially a suburb of Amsterdam.  Amsterdam is a hundred miles south of Groningen.

Map of Frisia

   Groningen has a linguistic and ethnic heritage independent from the rest of the Netherlands- it is located in the area historically known as "Friesland." It's a language- the language is West Frisian that used to cover a large part of the Benelux territory but is now reduced to the single territory centered in Groningen- only a half million speakers.  Frisian is the language most similar to Old English so it is a very, very, fair speculation that some important part of the English population came from Frisia- which is also supported by the geography.  Basically Frisians and the Anglo-Saxons came from the same tribal groups and they just settled in different areas after the Roman Empire lost it.

   And you know, these are 30 million people who have a pretty high standard of living and buy music and such.  There are worse places in Europe- Italy- for example- where people don't buy music at all.



Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Hittites: Story of A Forgotten Empire by Archibald Sayce

This is a map of the Ancient Near East and it shows where the Hittites, Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians  during the 16th 14th century BC.

The Hittites: Story of A Forgotten Empire
by Archibald Sayce
p. 1890

    It's a cliche that the internet makes everything available to everyone for free but this certainly is NOT true for graduate level monographs dealing with subjects in the humanities.  You need to subscribe to JSTOR to access papers and most advanced subjects in history or english are super expensive on Amazon whether in Ebook or print format.

The Hittite Swastika was the most "western" of the Ancient Eastern uses of the symbol. I would argue that the transmission represents a shared Indo European cultural contact since the Indian Swastika is of Sanskritic vintage.  If you look at the map above it's easy to see how both the Hittites and the Indo-Iranian speakers would have both come from "the north"

  Thus, if you are a lay person who, say, wants to learn about the Ancient Near East, there are a finite number of books on the subject that you can obtain without plunking down serious coin.  Most of those are texts which have been used by college courses in the subject or older books that have been around long enough for the price to drop through multiple print editions.  For example, the primary text that a curious reader can obtain on the Hittites is Trevor Bryce's The Kingdom of the Hittites from 1998.  That's about it.

Hittite Warriors from the Battle of Kadesh (1300 BC) between the Hittites and the Egyptians in Syria/Palestine.  It's important to understand the role that the centuries long conflict between Egypt and the Hittites played in allowing the Hebrews to settle in Palestine after their migration out of Egypt- Palestine was a war torn desiccated landscape with no central power.

 One of the other interesting aspects of the Hittite story (besides status as a bridge culture between Mesopotamia/Babylonia/Assyria and Greece) is the fact that the Hittites were only rediscovered in the mid 1870s by the author of The Hittites: Story of A Forgotten Empire, Archibald Sayce.  This book is also the only free book on Hittite history that you can pick up on Amazon,

   The story of the rediscovery of the Hittites is one that parallels the more well known story of Egypt and the discovery of the Rosetta stone that allowed Victorian scholars to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.   Sayce did manage to unravel the secret of the written Hittite language, but only had a few texts to work with- like single digits.  Compare that state of affairs to what Bryce had to say circa 1998:

  "Some 5000 or more clay tablets impressed with the cuneiform script have been unearthed in the Hittite capital Hattusa this century, in perhaps as many as 30,000 fragments."  - Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites, Appendix 2, Sources For Hittite History: An Overview.

Hittite Ritual Axe:  The Hittites were known for their Iron weapons and their knowledge of how to make steel.  They were also known for their horses, and their chariot building- all classically Indo-European skills:  Chariots, Horses, Warriors.

   Sooo...Sayce just didn't have as much information but he did actually, concretely discover an ancient civilization, and a crucial one in terms of understanding how the Greeks became civilized and many of the forces that shaped immigration in and around the Mediterranean before the advent of the "Classical" World.

  One major distinction that Sayce was writing too early to understand is the distinction between the original Hittite and the later Neo-Hittites- the difference between 1900-1800 BC and 1600-15000 BC.  One of the most interesting things about the history of the Ancient Near East is that there are another 2000 years of written history BEFORE the Christian era begins.  That's as much as we have on the other side.

  Most of what Sayce knows about the Hittites is based on his personal "adventures" looking at remote archeological sites and then the rest is what he can glean from contemporary sources: The Bible, Babylonian and Assyrian written history and of course the Egyptians.

    Sayce actually went on after discovering the Hittites to become an Egyptologist so he was on it in terms of looking at newly translated Egyptian texts that referenced the Hittites in terms that can be described as 'Ancient Near Eastern Power Politics': Wars between nations, blood shed, elaborate diplomatic treaties, dynastic marriages.  Sayce argues from this that the Hittites were the second major "Northern" power during the spercific period he was describing, but they were also pushed around by powers to the east: Assyria to be specific.


Monday, March 04, 2013

That Vikings TV Show On History Channel Is A Hit

Gabriel Byrne as Earl Haraldson in Vikings on the History Channel
is on the History Channel
like every night forever because
it's the biggest thing they've ever done.

  I don't write about TV on this blog but I  DO write about the history of the middle ages.  If there is a chance to talk about a popular television so about the Viking invasion of the British Isles then I am ALL IN.  The pitch for Vikings is "Boardwalk Empire, meets Sopranos, meets Game Of Thrones."  Starring Gabriel Byrne as Earl Haraldson and Travis Fimmel as the main protagonist Ragnar Lothbrok.

Travis Himmel as Ragnar Lothbrok: A Star is Born

  It's not a documentary- it's a television show that is seeking to emulate shows on other Cable channels- specifically the historical dramas that Showtime has favored and people don't watch: Spartacus?  Borgias? If anyone should be watching those shows it's me and I don't.  But there is something about Vikings, perhaps the fact that Gabriel Byrne is playing the Tony Soprano character or maybe it's the combination of Byrne with relative unknown Travis Himmel as main man Ragnar Lothbrok.

  It looks like that the action moves over to England which means there will be Anglo-Saxon English characters and Christian churches. One question I had watching the first episode was "When does Vikings take place?"  Which century, etc.  The main plot point in the first episode is that Gabriel Byrne doesn't believe that there is any land to the west at all.

  According to Peter Hunter Blair's An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England, " When the Icelandic historians of the 12th and 13th centuries wrote the history of the country where their ancestors had come to Iceland from the 9th century, they attributed the migration of Norwegians to their spirit of independence which made them unwilling to submit to the domination of Harold Fairhair... for some 50 years from c. 800 raiders came across the North Sea with the easterly winds of spring and returned home with their loot before the westerly gales of autumn."

  I think the part where Gabriel Byrne's chief literally doesn't believe in the existence of the west either means that part of it is fantasy or the story is set really, really "early" in the Middle Ages- maybe as early as 500 AD?  Earlier?  But I think they are trying to set it in  800 AD because the characters in England seem "English" and not "Anglo Saxon" I don't know I guess that will get cleared up.

  Maybe I will dust off the old copy of Peter Hunter Blair's An Introduction to Anglo-Saxon England- sure to be in demand if Vikings becomes an equivalent in popularity to a Games Of Thrones.  You should give it a shot. I'm sure the first episode will be on every night this week or On Demand.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Juliet Aubrey as Dorothea Brooke in BBC Adaptation of Middlemarch

Book Review
by George Eliot
p. 1871
Oxford World's Classics

  OK so I've literally been reading Middlemarch for three months.  Originally published in seven separate "numbers" the one volume Middlemarch clocks in at a cool 780 pages.  The subject matter is life in a small town in England in the early 19th century.   George Eliot has four novels in the 1001 Books list-  Adam Bede, Mill On The Floss, and Silas Marner.  Middlemarch was published eight years after Silas Marner and has been a huge, monster hit/classic upon publication. (1)

Rufus Sewell as William Laidslaw in BBC adaptation of Middlemarch

  Eliot is, by critical consensus, the first "modern" novelist. (2)  Unfortunately the early period of modernism is characterized by "realism" i.e.  lots and lots of boring detail about small town life. Welcome to the modern era of the novel!

  The heroine of Middlemarch is Dorothea Brooke- a young woman who marries a "dry-as-dust" scholar Edward Casaubon.  The first 3/7 books mostly deal with her unhappy marriage- then the husband dies and the story shifts largely to the marraige of Rosamund Vincy to Tertius Lydgate.  The plot concerns subjects standard to the Victorian novel: Marriage! Inheritance! Family Secrets!  Small Town Scandal!  What is different between Eliot's writing and the writing of contemporaries like Anthony Trollope is her mastery of the inner life of her characters.  Eliot's Middlemarch is what we would call "fully realized" and it's that realization that led to her instant acclaim as a master of the art form.

  It's also why people still read George Eliot- again- compare her present popularity to the (lesser) popularity of Anthony Trollope- who was also hugely popular during the 1860s-1870s

  Finally, I find it significant that Eliot's success as a novelist was proceeded by 20 some odd years writing as a critic and her long term relationship with another successful, well regarded critic.   In other words, Eliot laid the ground work for her success by setting up a network of people who were ready to acclaim her novels.

(1) From my review of Adam Bede:

 I would argue that George Eliot had four 'hits,'  all of which appear on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die (2006 ed.) list:  Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss(1860), Silas Mariner (1863) & Middlemarch(1871).  Today, Middlemarch is the most popular of the four.  Silas Mariner is arguably the title to be dropped from the 1001 Books Before You Die update, if you look at it in terms of popularity.  Middlemarch's status as the most popular is undoubtedly due to the popularity of Middlemarch as a proto-Modernist text from the mid-late 19th century.  Middlemarch has been in vogue since the late 1950s and early 1960s, which is a key sign that popularity of a specific text relates to its appreciation among the academic market.

(2) "It is one of her principal claims to fame that she is the first modern novelist.  That first period of the English novel that begins with Henry Fielding ends with Anthony Trollope; the second: the period of Henry James...begins with George Eliot."  Early Victorian Novelists by David Cecil, pg. 213 (1934).

Show Review: R. Stevie Moore//Lake\\Plateaus @ The Void

R. Stevie Moore

  R. Stevie Moore is an indie/diy legend who does not tour a whole bunch.  Last night was a pretty special occasion.  If you were one of the morons who went to the Starfucker show at the Casbah (which was sold out) I truly am sorry for you. I mean there were plenty of people at The Void last night for R. Stevie- I would call it packed- so this isn't like a sad FB "you guys didn't come" kind of observation it's just a factual statement that being a fan of Starfucker is embarrassing.

 Also, I'm not saying that I'm some huge super fan of R. Stevie Moore, I'm just saying that the choice between the two entertainment opportunities is so tilted in favor of going to R. Stevie Moore that making the other choice means that you are stupid.

 Plateaus were great- really tight- crowd loved it- they need to keep touring- perhaps touring California with Slipping Into Darkness would be a solid idea.  IN fact- it would be solid.  That should happen this Spring.

  Lake was a really cool K Records band that sounded like a K Records band- a mix of dulcet indie pop (which K Records pretty much invented) and jazzy indie pop (a la Sea & Cake.)  They were pretty well ignored by the crowd- which is most regrettable but somewhat predictable considering they were bookended by two raucous garage rock acts.

  R. Stevie Moore certainly delivered the goods- like a Sea Punk Santa Claus (i.e. a guy who looks like Santa Claus with his hair dyed blue) he veered between racuous garage rock, mellow slow songs, rambling spoken word read from a notebook and a solo "intermission" set that ran between the first set and the encore, which was also lengthy and included a cover of "Wild Thing."  R. Stevie seemed to be enjoying himself greatly and having a good time- the crowd certainly loved him, though attentions began to wander during the solo intermission.

  Really fun night, with really good music- and I basically wanted to write this review in case there are any Starfucker fans out there- seriously- that band is stupid.  Yes, hugely popular (6 million last fm plays!) but stupid- because... the name.  Starfucker?!?  You might as well be a Screamo band with that name.

  Thursday night is Wax Idols and Cathedral X you should def. check that out. (FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE)

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