Posted by: zhiv | November 12, 2011

Reading Notes: Sinclair, Frederic, Stafford and some Russians

And Leslie Stephen of course. Behind on the typing, and I thought I would do a quick snap shot and catch up going into the weekend.

LS notes: Those who glance at comments around here might know that I’m in contact with Catherine V. Hollis, author of the excellent pamphlet/book “Leslie Stephen and Mountaineering.” I was going to write on this topic as an M.A. thesis in the 80’s, but she has done a much better job. In writing to her I started spewing on my path to discovering LS, and it took shape as more of a blog post than something I would send in an email. Haven’t fixed it or typed it up yet, but there’s some exciting new prospects, if not activity, backstage over here these days on Leslie Stephen.

May Sinclair. I haven’t started reading the The Creators yet, because I was moving books around and for some reason started reading Jean Stafford’s The Mountain Lion. I made a good start on it and need to try to finish. But I did made progress on Sinclair because, after a couple of false starts and waiting for librarians to track it down, I now have a copy of May Sinclair: A Modern Victorian, by Suzanne Raitt. This book seems especially pricey, or I would buy it. At any rate, I haven’t been this excited about a biography in a long time. Sinclair is interesting and complex enough, with a veiled and obscure private life, and plenty of work to analyze, that it should be great.

Jean Stafford. Yes, but how and why? This is a belated follow up to Mary McCarthy and Partisan Review and post-war New York Intellectuals studies, that goes back to early days on this blog. Stafford was a dark and brooding figure in the background of David Laskin’s Partisans . I wanted to read her book Boston Adventure when I was doing Literary Boston, but Mountain Lion is supposed to be her best book, and I stumbled on a nice copy of it not long ago. And then when I was moving stuff around I saw it again, and it jumped to the top of the stack.

Harold Frederic is a major topic, although it might not appear that way. I read In The Valley (after messing up on the blog and calling it “Up In The Valley”–haven’t bothered to correct that yet) and thought it was pretty good, and then I spent at least a week writing about it, and it got more interesting. That’s a big typing job that I made almost no progress on all week. But I’ll get there. I’ll probably split the thing up into at least two posts, if not more–it’s pretty long. And while I was at the library I got Frederic’s book of stories, In the 60’s, which apparently contains some good civil war stuff. I read the preface and was surprised to discover that it was all about the history of his writing process, with a lot of material about how he formulated and struggled and later came to write In The Valley. And I read the intro to the Belknap edition of Theron Ware, the publication of which was a bit of a Frederic breakthrough, a good step on his rescue from oblivion. It was pretty strong as an initial statement marking the book as a neglected and valuable classic.

And the Russians. My son got to choose a couple of books to read and analyze and compare, and his picks were Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and Crime and Punishment. That was pretty cool, I thought, and I kind of knew Denisovich and read some of Gulag Archipelago and maybe something else, not Cancer Ward, but it seemed like a book I wouldn’t mind reading. On the same “College Board” list the other Russians were War and Peace, Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard, and Turgenev’s Father and Sons. Discovered this week that Tom Stoppard adapted Anna Karenina, which Joe Wright is directing for his girl Keira Knightley, which should all be interesting I guess. I’m a fan of Father and Sons and might suggest reading it to my son, if he powers through the first two, but we’ll see. The question I had was one about Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard is an obvious and solid choice. I recently picked up my own version of the complete stories, which I’m very happy about. It wouldn’t work for the format, but it you were going to do an Intro to Chekhov, what stories would you pick? How many? I’m trying to figure that out, but I suppose there must be some basic collections that answer the question simply enough.


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