Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08b7rv2
David Bellos explores why Les Miserables is “France’s greatest gift”. He reveals its inspirations and its resonance now, while describing Victor Hugo’s life as he penned his epic.
There has never been a book like it. War and Peace, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment were all published in the same decade, yet only Les Misérables can stand as the novel of the nineteenth century. How did Victor Hugo’s epic work come to be the most widely read and frequently adapted story of all time? And why is its message just as important for our century as it was for his own?
Photo: The Times.
(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Observer, 1/28.)
One of Britain’s foremost playwrights has launched a forthright attack on European concept directors who camp up and distort classic plays in a way that is “beginning to infect” British theatre.
Sir David Hare’s damning criticisms of so-called “theatre makers” are included in a wide-ranging interview for a forthcoming book.
In one passage, Hare refers to “state of England” plays as “the strongest line in British theatre”. He recalls Jerusalem, Jez Butterworth’s award-winning playabout national identity, which opened at the Royal Court in 2009 with Mark Rylance as a roguish ne’er-do-well. Hare describes it as “the last surpassingly successful play in that tradition”.
Photo: The Telegraph.
Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b019dh51
Frank Spencer-like moments at the births of his two daughters, as Michael Crawford begins the first of a five-part reading of his autobiography.
Celebrated for his roles as the hapless Frank Spencer in the BBC TV sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – and as the man in the mask in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, The Phantom of the Opera – Michael Crawford is one of Britain’s best loved entertainers.
Abridged by Pat McLoughlin.
Producer: Penny Leicester
First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1999.
Antonio Di Benedetto
( Coetzee’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 1/19.)
by Antonio Di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen
New York Review Books, 201 pp., $15.95 (paper)
The year is 1790, the place an unnamed outpost on the Paraguay River ruled from faraway Buenos Aires. Don Diego de Zama has been here for fourteen months, serving in the Spanish administration, separated from his wife and sons. Nostalgically Zama looks back to the days when he was a corregidor (chief administrator) with a district of his own to run:
Doctor Don Diego de Zama!… The forceful executive, the pacifier of Indians, the warrior who rendered justice without recourse to the sword…, who put down the native rebellion without wasting a drop of Spanish blood.
Now, under a new, centralized system of government meant to tighten Spain’s control over its colonies, chief administrators have to be Spanish-born. Zama serves as second-in-command to a Spanish gobernador: as a Creole, an americano born in the New World, he can aspire no higher. He is in his mid-thirties; his career is stagnating. He has applied for a transfer; he dreams of the letter from the viceroy that will whisk him away to Buenos Aires, but it does not come.
(Claire Messud’s article article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 12/8.)
Penguin, 453 pp., $27.00
“I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do,” Zadie Smith wrote in a recent article in The Guardian. She cites the dancer Martha Graham’s advice as useful for her writerly self:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique…. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
Her new novel, Swing Time, is both about dancers and, on some level, a dance itself, syncopated, unexpected, and vital. There is a moment late in the novel when the narrator (mysteriously unnamed, for well over four hundred pages) joins in a dance with a group of village women in Gambia:
(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083n15p )
Nutshell by the acclaimed author Ian McEwan is read by the actor Tim McInnerny.
Ian McEwan’s latest novel updates the story of Hamlet to a townhouse in modern day London. As at Elsinore – betrayal and murder are rife. Trudy plans to poison her husband John and elope with her lover Claude. There is however a witness to the plot – Trudy’s as yet unborn child.
‘Bounded in the nutshell’ of Trudy’s womb, the foetus is forced to eavesdrop on his mother Ger(Trudy) and her lover, property-developer Claude, as they plan to murder his father, a hapless poet called John Cairncross. The ambitious but deeply banal Claude is of course brother to John and, consequently, villainous uncle to our unborn narrator. Claude and Trudy devise an elaborate facade involving anti-freeze and a great many props to cover their tracks and suggest that John’s death was suicide.
As witness to all these goings-ons, the nine-month old resident of Trudy’s womb keeps up a running commentary as he muses on his own future and decides how he can subvert their plan and avenge the murder. Nutshell’s Denmark is an elegant Georgian terraced house in London St. John’s Wood that has become shabby and dilapidated, but Claude has designs on it.
Tim McInnerny is known for his many roles on stage and screen appearing in films such Johnny English and TV such as Sherlock and the recent National Treasure. Early in his career he featured as Lord Percy Percy and Captain Darling in the Blackadder series.
Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, Solar and The Children Act.
Photo of Ian McEwan: Star Tribune
(Charlotte Higgins’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/10.)
Think of Greek tragedy and we tend to think of sad stories of the death of kings. Or, if not their deaths, then at least their comeuppances: Agamemnon killed in his bath by his wife; Ajax made mad and murderous by the gods; Oedipus blinded by his own hand; Jason destroyed after his wife, Medea, kills their children.
But only 32 complete plays survive, by just three playwrights – out of hundreds, or perhaps as many as 1,000 texts by around 80 authors. And, according to Matthew Wright, professor of Greek at the University of Exeter, the works we have by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are neither necessarily the best plays of their time, nor especially representative. Some of these lost works, he believes, were likely to have been masterpieces: “There is no evidence that quality played a part in the transmission of the surviving texts.”
Listen on BBC Radio 4 at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07zyg5p
Following on from Alan Bennett’s bestselling, award-winning prose collections Writing Home and Untold Stories, Keeping On Keeping On is a newly-published third anthology featuring his unique observations, recollections and reminiscences.
In these entries, covering the years 2005 to 2014, Bennett looks back on a packed decade that included writing four highly-acclaimed plays – The Habit of Art, People, Hymn and Cocktail Sticks, all of which premiered at the National Theatre – as well as the screenplays for the hit films of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van.
In addition, he reflects on his 25 years of friendship and collaboration with director Nicholas Hytner, life with his partner Rupert Thomas and, radical views notwithstanding, his status as ‘kindly, cosy and essentially harmless’ – a view which these diaries do their best to disprove.
Today, Alan’s play The History Boys has its last production at the National Theatre and he laments the many abandoned pieces he has written.
Abridged and produced by Gordon House.
(Tim Page’s article appeared in The New York Review of Books, 10/27.)
There are certain creative figures whose mature works are almost tangential to their enduring artistic influence. Marcel Duchamp falls into this group, as does Andy Warhol. And so, certainly, does John Cage (1912–1992). He opened doors—floodgates, really—and dissolved definitions; if most of his own compositions now seem less interesting than the ramifications of his ideas, there can be little doubt that his oceanic spirit changed the topography.
It is fitting, perhaps, that the son of a Los Angeles inventor should have attracted initial public attention with his own homemade instrument—the “prepared piano,” a standard-issue piano transfigured with the help of nut bolts, screws, erasers, rubber bands, and other material placed between its strings. Described so dryly, the idea calls to mind some sort of Dada stunt (“C’mon kids, let’s see what we can squeeze into this piano!”), but the resulting sound was specific, exotic, and euphonious, a percussion orchestra in a box.
A 1943 concert at the Museum of Modern Art made Cage famous—and controversial. “About forty kinds of instruments were employed, ranging from thunder sheets and a ‘string piano’ to cowbells, flower pots and even an audio-frequency generator,” Noel Straus reported in The New York Times. “But practically all the ‘music’ produced by the various combinations of them had an inescapable resemblance to the meaningless sounds made by children amusing themselves by banging on tin pans and other resonant kitchen utensils.”
Photo: University of Utah
(From the Irish Times, 8/15.)
A selection of writers pick the books that best make sense of the US election, and the ones that predicted the rise of a Trump-style candidate
My old mentor and friend Shelby Foote used to say that a person couldn’t understand the US without understanding the American civil war. As a Mississippi kid who was glad the south had lost the war (100 years before) and who felt that slavery was a blight on American history we would do well to try to “live beyond”, I thought Shelby’s insistence was a lot of hooey intended to prove the south’s undeserved centrality to all things American. In my naive view, the south and “southern values” were a garish anomaly, not typical of what America stood for – those values expressed in the Declaration of Independence.
I maintained this view until I unexpectedly experienced the American right wing’s irrationally hostile opposition to the Obama presidency. From questioning – completely without justification – Obama’s birth and religion, to opposing virtually all Obama’s policy initiatives, to slandering the president personally, to denying his actual right to hold office, the right wing formally and informally waged a campaign not only to discredit our legally elected head of state but, in essence, to erase him.