Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 31 — reading and viewing

Way back in July in an earlier post in the lockdown series: Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit the subject was Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the Visconti movie of the same name. There was also the recent documentary about the boy who played Tadzio in that movie, about how his life had been affected by being known as “the most beautiful boy in the world.”

Mitchell (The Rabbit!) and I compared notes on book and movie. I reread the book, which was in my eBook library, in the course of our discussion. The version I have is from Feedbooks.

Project Gutenberg has just released the very first English language edition, as published in The Dial, VOLUME LXXVI, January to June, 1924, translated by Kenneth Burke. “It is now considered to be much more faithful and explicit than H. T. Lowe-Porter’s more famous 1930 translation.” Which I don’t have. Let’s compare the opening of the novella in both:

Martin C. Doege 2008: Gustav Aschenbach, or von Aschenbach, as his official surname had been since his fiftieth birthday, had taken another solitary walk from his apartment in Munich’s Prinzregentenstraße on a spring afternoon of the year 19.., which had shown the continent such a menacing grimace for a few months. Overexcited by the dangerous and difficult work of that morning that demanded a maximum of caution, discretion, of forcefulness and exactitude of will, the writer had been unable, even after lunch, to stop the continued revolution of that innermost productive drive of his, that motus animi continuus, which after Cicero is the heart of eloquence, and had been thwarted trying to find that soothing slumber which he, in view of his declining resistance, needed so dearly. Therefore he had gone outside soon after tea, hoping that fresh air and exertion would regenerate him and reward him with a productive evening.

Kenneth Burke 1924: On a spring afternoon of the year 19—, when our continent lay under such threatening weather for whole months, Gustav Aschenbach, or von Aschenbach as his name read officially after his fiftieth birthday, had left his apartment on the Prinzregentenstrasse in Munich and had gone for a long walk. Overwrought by the trying and precarious work of the forenoon—which had demanded a maximum wariness, prudence, penetration, and rigour of the will—the writer had not been able even after the noon meal to break the impetus of the productive mechanism within him, that motus animi continuus which constitutes, according to Cicero, the foundation of eloquence; and he had not attained the healing sleep which—what with the increasing exhaustion of his strength—he needed in the middle of each day. So he had gone outdoors soon after tea, in the hopes that air and movement would restore him and prepare him for a profitable evening.

I think I prefer Burke!

Of course Death in Venice has been rendered as a stage production in 2013, as a ballet in 2003, and as his last opera by Benjamin Britten in 1973, and has been transformed in other ways as well. See Wikipedia.

And the ballet:

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit

Not just any rabbit. This rabbit: At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland… Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day… Mr Rabbit was 20 at the time, and had his say as well:

We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.

Only $400,000? You would need maybe THREE TIMES that these days, Rabbit!

Anyway, after an absence Rabbit has reappeared on Facebook. He is no longer 20 just as I am now much nearer 80! He is also a very experienced High School English teacher — indeed Head of English somewhere in the Blue Mountains, where he currently lives.

Our latest conversation was conducted via Facebook comments. I had posted a link to the following quite disturbing story in The Guardian, which certainly raises interesting ethical and aesthetic issues.

Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion’s den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty. Sitting alone in Stockholm today at the age of 66, he looks more like Gandalf with his white beard and his gaunt face framed by shoulder-length white locks. His eyes twinkle as alluringly as ever but he’s no pussycat. Asked what he would say to Visconti if he were here now, he doesn’t pause. “Fuck off,” he says.

No one who sees The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, a new documentary about Andrésen’s turbulent and tragic past, will be surprised by that answer. Visconti, he tells me, “didn’t give a fuck” about his feelings. He wasn’t alone in that. “I’ve never seen so many fascists and assholes as there are in film and theatre,” says Andrésen. “Luchino was the sort of cultural predator who would sacrifice anything or anyone for the work.”…

The Rabbit began:

Rabbit: haven’t seen the film but recently listened to the audiobook.

Neil James Whitfield: The book is very good.

Rabbit: It is. Shorter than I had realised too.
Neil James Whitfield: The movie is magnificent too — it is reading what it did to the boy playing Tadzio that gives me pause.

Rabbit: the Polish boy was played by a Swede?

At which point I posted the music from the movie.

Rabbit: well I think I will watch it during this lockdown

Neil James Whitfield: So I am rereading “Death in Venice” right now as it is in my eBook library.

Rabbit: The theme of pestilence seems relevant.

Neil James Whitfield: Parts of the last chapter seem very relevant. Yes, I have finished it now. That final paragraph really is something.

Rabbit: well I just watched the film. It’s quite something. They nailed the casting of Tadzio.

Neil James Whitfield: Yes, I was absolutely speechless when I first saw it — and I hadn’t read the book at that stage. The boy really IS Tadzio, and Dirk Bogarde is very good too. The cinematography, the music, everything — all so good. That’s why that Guardian article really does raise interesting questions.

Rabbit: visually such a beautiful film. [Referring to my comment.] Yes very true. I want to watch the new film about the boy actor and also other films with Bogarde who I don’t know much about.

Neil James Whitfield: Wikipedia as usual is a good intro — Bogarde was in some great films and had a very interesting life. What Wikipedia says about his sexuality is very true.

Rabbit: the film Victim is on YouTube and I’ll start with that.

Not all Facebook time is wasted!

Nor is listening to great music and viewing great movies a waste of time. Thanks, YouTube! Not so long ago we could not have had this pleasure.

NOTE: I am replacing the final video I had earlier as I see its maker has produced something even better, and more relevant to The Guardian article.

Very brief notes on reading

And I am informed this is Post #2,550 on this blog!

Yesterday on Facebook* I wrote:

From Wollongong Library today two — one of them winner of the 2020 Booker Prize. And in my eBooks on Calibre I have just finished and really enjoyed Lytton Strachey’s biography of Queen Victoria. I have moved on (prompted by something a friend posted) to The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford — and yes, I knew he was not American through long-ago Conrad study at Sydney University. His stocks have risen in recent years — 2014 for example The Good Soldier was #41 on The Guardian’s list of the top 100!

Wollongong Library borrowings

The friend, Matthew da Silva, has just published an enthusiastic review of The Good Soldier.

The books I returned to the Library yesterday were both in the area of Australian history. The biography of Moonlite was fun to read and something of a revelation — what an amazing character he was! The other added another valuable story in the ongoing rescue of our deep past in this country — or perhaps one should say “these countries”!

No, they were not overdue — I had extended both online!

I also read lately from Wollongong Library — and how good is Wollongong Library! as Scomo might say — these:

Kate Grenville’s novel truly lived up to the hype, while Robbie Morrison’s crime novel set in 1920s Glasgow with its razor gangs (we had our own famous examples of that in Surry Hills and Darlinghurst around the same time) proved a winner, given it had been a random selection on my part.

Looking at my eBooks on my Calibre Library and reader on my computer, 2789 books at last count, here are some I continue to browse in with much pleasure, both from ANU Press with its amazing policy of FREE eBook versions of their latest books, even where the hard cover version could be between $80 and $100!

And among other acquisitions from ANU is another valuable addition to the growing stories of our countries:

Finally (for this post I mean, but not in the list I could extend even further!) is this central primary source in the Sydney story, thanks to Project Gutenberg.

Such riches!

And every one of them – eBook or Library borrowing — well within my budget as a pensioner, because they are all FREE! I should also add that whenever a Library book is borrowed a royalty is paid to the author! Keep that in mind.

Footnote on *Facebook

Recent eBooks — 2

Here is another just out from ANU Press. I stored it because I am curious about it, and as I said I did at age 7 want to be a scientist! So in fact I do read a bit in such areas.

$60 printed or eBook free again!

Cooperative Evolution offers a fresh account of evolution consistent with Charles Darwin’s own account of a cooperative, inter-connected, buzzing and ever-changing world. Told in accessible language, treating evolutionary change as a cooperative enterprise brings some surprising shifts from the traditional emphasis on the dominance of competition.

The book covers many evolutionary changes reconsidered as cooperation. These include the cooperative origins of life, evolution as a spiral rather than a ladder or tree, humans as a part of natural systems rather than the purpose, relationships between natural and social change, and the role of the individual in adaptive radiation onto new ground. The story concludes with a projection of human evolution from the past into the future.

‘Environmental studies courses have needed a book like Cooperative Evolution for a long time. It is a boon for those teaching the complexity of the evolutionary story.’
— Dr John A. Harris, BSc(Hons) MSc PhD, School of Environmental Science, University of Canberra

‘As a regenerative, holistic-thinking farmer I daily witness the results of cooperative evolution as the seasons unfold. A pleasure to read, Cooperative Evolution gives entry to recent thinking on evolutionary processes.’
— David Marsh, MSA, ‘Allendale’, Boorowa, New South Wales, 2018 National Individual Landcarer Award recipient

‘This book is an engaging new look at ideas about evolution as we know it today. In the hands of two eminent biologists, it presents an approachable yet challenging argument. I heartily recommend it.’
— Emeritus Professor Sue Stocklmayer AO, BSc MSc PhD, Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, The Australian National University

Looking forward to getting into that.

The next one is from Project Gutenberg, and is just a delight — lovely to look at. And very short!

By P. N. Boxer and Dorothy Woollard, originlly 1920. Here is one sketch. I think you will know the building.

Finally, also from Project Gutenberg, a book I will never read, but will browse in, partly because of my past membership of — indeed Eldership in at 21! — the Presbyterian Church. Historically this is important, but at the moment it is its language which appeals to me. It eschews London in favour of Edinburgh when it comes to dialect.

That, people, is










…and published M.DCCC.XXXIX. which I believe is 1839. Now for a gobbet:

May 29, 1561.

The whilk day, touching the sclander taken be the horrible fault and impietie committed within this burgh under silence of night be Marquies Dalbuife and his Colleagues, in breaking up of Cuthbert Ramsay his ʒetts and doors, and searching and seeking of his daughter in Law to oppress her, as appeared: It is thought good be the whole Kirk that ane Supplicatione be made and given in to the Queen’s Majestie, in name of the Professors of the Evangell, and the persons before nominat present the samen, to seek the answer thereof: the forme of the Supplication followeth:—

To the Q. Majestie, her Secret and Great Councill, her G. faithful and obedient subjects, Professors of Christ Jesus his holy Evangell, wishes the Spirit of Righteousness and Judgement.

The fear of God conceaved of his holy word, the naturall and unfained Love we bear unto your G. the dewtie quhilk we owe unto our Countrey, and terrible threatenings quhilk our God pronunces against every realme and citie in the quhilks horrible crimes are openly committed, and then be the Committers obstinatly defended, compel us, an great part of your subjects, humbly to crave of your G. upright and trew Judgement against sick persones as hes done what in them lyes to kindle God’s wrath against this realme. The impietie be them committed is so hainous and so horrible, that as it was a fact most vyle and rare to be heard of within this realme, principallie within the bounds of citie, so should we think ourselves guiltie of the samen if negligently, or yet for worldly fear, we pass it over with silence, and therefore your Grace may not think that we require any thing. All that we crave, open malefactors condignly to be punished, But that whilk God hes commanded us to crave, and has also commanded your G. to give to every one of your subjects; ffor be this Link hes God knitt together the Prince and the people, That as he commands honor, fear, and obedience to be given to the Powers established be him, so does he in express words command and declare what thing the Prince aught unto the subjects, To witt, that as he is the Minister of God his word, bearing the Sword for vengeance to be taken on evil doers, and for the defence of peaceable and quiet men, swa ought he to draw the samen without all partialitie swa oft as in God his name he is required thereto. Seeing so it is, Madame, that this crime so recently committed, and that in the eyes of your haill realme now presently assembled, is so hainous, ffor who heretofore hath heard within the bounds of Edinburgh, ʒetts and houses under silence of night bruised up, houses ryped, and that with hostilitie seeking ane woman, as appeared, to oppress her:—Seeing, we say, this crime is so hainous, That all godlie men fear not only God’s sair displeasure to fall upon you and your whole realme, But also that sick libertie breed contempt, and in the end seditione, if remeed in tyme be not goodlie provyded, quhilk in our Judgement is possible, if severe punishment be not execute for the cryme committed. Therefore, we most humbly beseech your Grace that, all affection laid aside, ye declare yourselfe so upright in this case that ye may give evident demonstratione to all your subjects, that the fear of God, joyned with the love of common tranquillitie, have principall seat and dominion in your Grace’s heart. This further, Madam, of conscience we speak, that as your G. in God his name does crave of us obedience, quhilk to render in all things lawful we are most willing, swa in the samen name doe we, the whole Professors of Christ’s Evangell within this realme, crave of you and of your Councill sharp punishment of this cryme, and for performance thereof, that, without all delay, the principall actor of this most hainous cryme, and the persewars of this pretended villanie may be called before the Chief Justice of this realme to suffer ane assyse, and to be punished according to the Lawes of the samen, and your G. answer we most humbly beseek.

Did you get all that? I think Mary Queen of Scots is being roundly told what’s what….
Mary, Queen of Scots

In fact I think I have discovered what that was all about — perhaps! It is complicated by the fact that Mary was still in France in May 1561, her husband, Francis II, the King of France, having recently died. She arrived back in Scotland in August. (She was 18, by the way, in May 1561.)

Here is what may have been the “the horrible fault and impietie committed within this burgh under silence of night” referred to by the General Assembly of the Kirk held on 27-29 May 1561.

A custom, dating far back in Catholic times, prevailed in Edinburgh in unchecked luxuriance down almost to the time of the Reformation. It consisted in a set of unruly dramatic games, called Robin Hood, the Abbot of Unreason, and the Queen of May, which were enacted every year in the floral month just mentioned. The interest felt by the populace in these whimsical merry-makings was intense: At the approach of May, they assembled and chose some respectable individuals of their number, very grave and reverend citizens perhaps, to act the parts of Robin Hood and Little John, of the Lord of Inobedience, or the Abbot of Unreason, and ‘make sports and jocosities’ for them. If the chosen actors felt it inconsistent with their tastes, gravity, or engagements, to don a fantastic dress, caper and dance, and incite their neighbours to do the like, they could only be excused on paying a fine. On the appointed day, always a Sunday or holiday, the people assembled in their best attire and in military array, and marched in blithe procession to some neighbouring field, where the fitting preparations had been made for their amusement. Robin Hood and Little John robbed bishops, fought with pinners, and contended in archery among themselves, as they had done in reality two centuries before. The Abbot of Unreason kicked up his heels and played antics like a modern pantaloon. The popular relish for all this was such as can scarcely now be credited. ‘A learned prelate [Latimer] preaching before Edward VI., observes, that he once came to a town upon a holiday, and gave information on the evening before of his design to preach. But next day when he came to the church, he found the door locked. He tarried half an hour ere the key could be found, and instead of a willing audience, some one told him: “This is a busy day with us; we cannot hear you. It is Robin Hood’s day. The parish are gone abroad to gather for Robin Hood. I pray you let [hinder] them not.” I was fain (says the bishop) to give place to Robin Hood. I thought my rochet should have been regarded, though I were not; but it would not serve. It was fain to give place to Robin Hood’s men.’

Such were the Robin Hood plays of Catholic and unthinking times. By and by, when the Reformation approached, they were found to be disorderly and discreditable, and an act of parliament was passed against them. Still, while the upper and more serious classes frowned, the common sort of people loved the sport too much to resign it without a struggle. It came to be one of the first difficulties of the men who had carried through the Reformation, how to wrestle the people out of their love of the May-games.

In April 1561, one George Dune was chosen in Edinburgh as Robin Hood and Lord of Inobedience, and on Sunday the 12th of May, he and a great number of other persons came riotously into the city, with an ensign and arms in their hands, in disregard of both the act of parliament and an act of the town-council. Notwithstanding an effort of the magistrates to turn them back, they passed to the Castle Hill, and thence returned at their own pleasure. For this offence a cordiner’s servant, named James Gillon, was condemned to be hanged on the 21st of July. — Source: Domestic Annals of Scotland.

Such punishment was presumably what the Assembly was asking of the Queen. And who was Cuthbert Ramsay, whose “ʒetts and doors” were broken by a mob “searching and seeking of his daughter in Law to oppress [rape?*] her“? Well, according to this:

*Indeed oppress did have that meaning, according to my ancient but beloved 3rd edition of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary.

The Ramsays of Dalhousie figure large in Scots history. And there is of course a ballad, known variously as “Mary Hamilton” or “The Four Maries”, which is uncertain when it comes to historicity, but does date from the 16th century most likely.

Last night there were four Maries;
Tonight there’ll be but three:
There was Mary Beaton and Mary Seton
And Mary Carmichael and me.

The song may not have had anything at all to do with Mary, Queen of Scots — but it is lovely anyway! And Joan Baez!

The following does, though it too takes quite a few liberties, I am told. But it certainly captures the viewer! Even if Mary and Elizabeth in fact never met!

Such are the sometimes pointless, but unfailingly interesting, byways my Calibre eBook library can take me down. Back in the 60s at Sydney Uni I used to pass many an hour reading all sorts of irrelevant stuff in the Fisher Library book stacks. Fun, in a nerdish kind of way, but now I do it on my laptop.

The joy of Calibre….

So I am sitting in Collegians/Illawarra Leagues after a lovely $7.90 meal of chicken schnitzel, salad and chips, reading my library book — and tomorrow’s blog post becomes obvious to me. Today’s blog post, I suppose, though I am writing it yesterday, if you know what I mean….

Ah, Gleebooks! What memories!

Again, so fascinating….

Both videos have closed captions available.

You have to realise that tales of the Hunter and the LIverpool Plains beyond were the stuff of my mother’s reminiscences — a series beginning there — and of her father’s young days. Thus they were part of my imaginative world too, but the Australian history I learned at school really taught me nothing about the area.

And of my great-grandfather John Hampton Christison too, about whom my cousin Ray has so ably written.

So I come upon an interesting footnote in Mark Dunn’s book, concerning an Aboriginal guide named Harry Brown. The reference is the the Journal of Aboriginal History 39 2015. Sure — that is in my Calibre Library, I say to myself, one of the 2,767. And, sure enough:

There it is!

Great, eh! Next time I will introduce you to three more recent e-Books.