BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Jun 2019, 11:46

Don’t get stuck in old ideas. Grace Lee Boggs, at 98. speaking on PBS, 2014

In 2014, PBS did one hour documentary on an old lady, Grace Lee Boggs, then 98 years old. Although she used a walker, she took the filmmakers around Detroit at a good pace and spoke with strength and force. PBS called their film “American Revolutionary,” because that is what Grace was, and she kept at it for another two years before dying, aged over 100, mourned by many but possibly not by the FBI. Grace Lee Boggs was born Yu Pin (“Jade Peace”) above her father’s restaurant, in Providence, RI, on June 27, 1915. Her mother, Lin Yan, could tell Grace a story, and did, for she had been sold into slavery in old China and resented it enough to escape, find her way to America, marry, and become a feminist. Yu Pin, or Grace, later said that her mom was her inspiration. If so, Lin Yan had a lasting echo in her daughter. Grace went to Barnard College (BA) and Bryn Mawr (PhD), both degrees in philosophy, and then (1940) found it difficult to get a job, finally landing one in the library at the University of Chicago. But she had already found a calling, socialism, democracy, and civil rights, or more accurately civil power, for people of color. Of course, as a person of Chinese ancestry, that’s the category where America put her anyway, but she doubled down on it, hard, and made it into an honor, starting with A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington (1941) and continuing through and well beyond Grace’s 1953 marriage to James Boggs, an auto-industry trade union activist who happened to be black. She moved to Detroit with Mr. Boggs and together they spent the next 40 years fomenting trouble (as the FBI would have it) or trying to make Detroit a better place to live and work (as the Boggses would put it). And Grace knew everyone, Randolph and Boggs of course, but a long list of activists, not all of them famous. I won’t list any but must tell you that one friend was the great C. L. R. James, sportsman, sportswriter, philosopher, and perceptive interpreter of American culture. Look him up—and while you’re at it look up Grace, too. You’ll be glad you did. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Jun 2019, 12:08

" live without danger of my Conscience, without offence to your Majesty, without this servile abjection to mine enemies." Philip Howard, 13th Earl of Arundel.

As a college principal at Lancaster University, it was my pleasant duty to dine (about once a year) with the Princess Alexandra, the university’s Chancellor, and thus also (occasionally) with her lady-in-waiting, Lady Mary Fitzalan Howard. The Howards (and the Fitzalans) are ubiquitous in the tangled history of the British peerage, and I knew that, collaterally, Lady Mary was related to a 17th-century governor of Virginia, a bit of a rogue, and once I tried this as a conversational gambit. It was not well received, but perhaps I was lucky not to say the same of Philip Howard, 13th Earl of Arundel, another denizen of Lady Mary’s family tree. Not only had he only lately been made a saint (in 1970), but he was a martyr into the bargain. Saint Philip Howard, then, was born on June 27, 1557, and baptized a few days later in the presence of his godparents, King Philip of Spain, the Archbishop of York, and his grandmother the dowager duchess of Norfolk (a Howard by marriage). And he was baptized a Catholic; but before baby Philip was out of swaddling clothes Queen Mary had died, her sister Elizabeth had succeeded, and England took the Protestant road. That twist would cost Philip’s father, the Duke of Norfolk, his head in 1572, and by attainder too, so the dukedom did not descend to Philip, but the religion did, and after a spectacularly roguish youth and young adulthood (during which he spent a couple of fortunes seeking Queen Elizabeth’s favor) he succeeded to another title (the earldom of Arundel) through his wife (jure matris). So Philip entered the House of Lords in 1581, and also through his wife (herself a devout) he ‘reconverted’ in 1584. Now a conscience-stricken Catholic, he was unable to be a loyal subject. Whether or not he was an active conspirator against the queen, the fake news of the era (real fake news) labeled him so, and he was in 1585 consigned to the Tower where (under sentence of death) he lived a very pious life, wrote testaments of conscience, and died mysteriously in 1595. His roguish youth is, today, only rarely mentioned and never, I suspect, at dinner. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Jun 2019, 11:15

Art and the liberation of Edna Clarke Hall.

In high school and beyond, I laid plans to be a farmer, a forester, and a lawyer; that I became none of those things can be regarded as ‘normally ironic.’ But sometimes an unexpected outcome looms so large as to become a dominant irony. Such was the case for Edna Clarke Hall, born on June 29, 1879. Her father, Benjamin Waugh, was a dissenting clergyman, founder of Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and her mother Sarah was loving enough to notice that Edna was so shy that she should be educated at home—and clever enough to make a good job of it. Both parents encouraged Edna’s artistic talent, as did their friend (and co-founder of the NSPCC) the radical lawyer William Clarke Hall, whose social circle included artists like Augustus John and Ambrose McEvoy. Clarke Hall backed Edna Waugh’s application to the Slade School of Art, which she entered (at 14), and with her talents’ further manifestations soon acquired a scholarship. And then in 1898 Edna, aged 19, married Clarke Hall (aged 32), only to discover that his progressive views on art, child-rearing, and politics did not extend to his ideas about wedded bliss. Settling down into a patriarchal marriage was not Edna’s plan, but she made a good job of it, and also as a mother to Justin (1905) and Dennis (1910). During this period her art became her private refuge, a coping mechanism, and it hasn’t surprised later scholars that one of her favorite subjects, or themes, arose from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Edna did exhibit (in 1914) to good reviews but it was not until the late 1920s that she really came out, in public, as an artist. Her husband died in 1932, the same year he was knighted, and Edna painted and drew and printed (and wrote poetry) to make herself into an artist now recognized as most worthy of public display, and all that despite the Luftwaffe destroying her studio in the Blitz. That would have been one irony too many for Lady Clarke Hall. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 30 Jun 2019, 11:35

"Well, Sam Oxon got up and spouted for half an hour with inimitable spirit, ugliness and emptiness and unfairness ... Huxley answered admirably and turned the tables. " J. D. Hooker to Charles Darwin, July 2, 1860.

It’s been my good fortune to read many excellent undergraduate essays, but there have been some bad ones too. Today I remember one that claimed, rather feverishly, that Missouri’s rising murder rate was the responsibility of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It was brought to mind because today is the anniversary of the great Oxford debate on evolution, that took place in the university’s Museum of Natural History on June 30, 1860. After years of study and reflection—and hesitation—Darwin had published in November 1859. It was one of those rare occasions when an epochal publication was immediately recognized to be, well, epochal. The book was warmly welcomed by some and damned by others, and the furore virtually guaranteed that the Origin would be ‘on the table’ at the next annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, to be held at Oxford at the end of June, 1860. And as if to ensure that outcome, chemistry professor John William Draper, of New York University, delivered a paper arguing that Darwin’s book and the reaction to it provided yet another illustration of his, Draper’s, theory of an inevitable, irreconcilable conflict between religion and science. Superficially, the ensuing debate ‘proofed’ Draper’s hypothesis, headlining Anglican Bishop ‘Soapy Sam’ Wilberforce mustering the biblical legions against the freethinkers’ hero (and “Darwin’s Bulldog”) Thomas Henry Huxley. And it included Wilberforce’s famed question, to Huxley, as to whether Huxley claimed descent from a monkey on his paternal or maternal side, and then Huxley’s response that he would rather be descended from a monkey than from a notoriously oleaginous bishop. Or perhaps not, for there is much uncertainty over exactly who said exactly what, and what may have been said during the ‘real’ debate is further obscured by the principals’ later literary exchanges. Just so, my student did not rise to the very considerable challenges (evidential and analytical) of demonstrating any connection between Charles Darwin’s book and Missouri’s murder rate (which, in any case, was falling at the time she presented her essay). ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Jul 2019, 11:46

"When my light is almost gone// Hear my cry, hear my call// Hold my hand lest I fall//Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home." Thomas Andrew Dorsey, 1932.

Much has been written and, I suspect, sung about the connections between ‘gospel music’ and the ‘blues,’ but in one man’s career—and life—the two were organically connected. That would be Thomas Andrew Dorsey, born in rural Georgia on July 1, 1899. His dad was the minister at the Mt. Prospect Baptist Church (the first black-owned church in Carroll County), but while Thomas learned his music in church it would take him a while to repay the debt with ‘gospel music’ (a phrase he is said to have coined, later in life). First he preferred different venues, playing piano in pool halls and beer dives. He got good enough at it to acquire ‘pro’ names, ‘Georgia Tom,’ somewhat misleadingly ‘Texas Tommy,’ and then much more accurately ‘Barrelhouse Tom.’ And with his band (the Wild Cats) he toured with the legendary Ma Rainey. He composed, too, and recorded, and today is credited with hundreds of blues numbers. But then, as he might have put it, his Father called. In the 1920s Georgia Tom began to compose and play religious music, he married Nettie, he settled down in Chicago, and (once again Thomas Andrew Dorsey) he found fame in another genre. That transition was probably complete by 1930, and in a long life Dorsey was music director at several churches, the owner of his own gospel music publishing house (the Dorsey House of Music), the founding president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, and a man of some considerable fame and fortune. But his fame began in sadness. In 1932, Nettie Dorsey (who had been Ma Rainey’s wardrobe mistress) died in childbirth, and their baby boy followed. In grief and contemplating suicide, Thomas Andrew Dorsey wrote “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” It’s since been sung by just about everyone, from Roy Rogers to Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone to Johnny Cash, on record and in the most solemn of settings. Both Lyndon Baines Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted it sung at their funerals. And so it was, as too, one assumes, it was sung at Thomas Andrew Dorsey’s own funeral, in 1993. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Jul 2019, 12:24

". . . you realize you loved these people, helplessly, that you were given no choice in this matter of loving them, and that they will always be part of you no matter how you try to carve them out of your flesh." Evelyn Lau, on her parents.

Social science scholarship provides much evidence that immigrant parents are often fiercely protective of, and fiercely ambitious for, their children. My anecdotal experience (teaching and advising in a British and an American university) tends to confirm this, and also to suggest that this combination of fear and hope can be problematic for the child. So it seems to have been for Evelyn Lau, born of Hong Kong parents in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 2, 1971. Whether or not Ms. Lau has reached her full potential as a writer (she is, after all, only 48 today), she’s certainly made a splash. And whatever her parents thought about her literary success, it wasn’t what they intended. Evelyn was going to be a medical doctor. But for her the tensions were too much. Her parents’ high ambitions conflicted with her uncertain status in school as a person of color, an immigrant, an Asian, and she began to write in order to negotiate what seemed to her to be a mess. And when writing didn’t quite suffice, she ran away: not far geographically but worlds away, into life as a street person, a vagrant, a teen-age prostitute, a druggie. It’s all recounted in Lau’s two volumes of memoirs, especially Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (1989). It was a remarkable success for an 18-year-old author, translated into several languages—including Chinese—and made into a film (1993, starring Sandra Oh). I haven’t read anything by Lau, but think I must soon repair that breach. Certainly she takes no prisoners, most notably in her recounting (in “Me and W. P.”, a 1997 magazine article) of a longish affair with her writing instructor, which taught him a thing or two including a lesson in the absurdity of suing his own student for libel. Since that splash, or rather tsunami, Evelyn Lau has won a string of awards, she’s been anthologized, she’s been named poet laureate of Vancouver, and withal seems just about to answer (in a resounding affirmative) Robertson Davies’s question about whether Canada can produce its own distinctive literature. But she’s not a medical doctor. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Jul 2019, 12:54

“It's not the voting that's democracy, it's the counting.” Tom Stoppard.

Through centuries of foreign domination, the Czechs (or, if you prefer, the Bohemians and the Moravians) developed a distinctive humor, apparently submissive to the world as they found it; but their jokes carried some venom, a sting in the tail so to speak. You can characterize it this way: ‘OK, if you like the way things are, that’s fine and you’re welcome to all of it. But if you think about it, here’s what it really looks like.’ This humor of self-realization can be dangerous stuff, as the latest version of foreign domination found when (1989) Czechoslovakia’s communist regime was laughed off the stage by the playwright-president Vaclav Havel, author of a metaphysical-political complaint about The Increased Difficulty of Concentration (first performed in 1969). One thinks about these things because today is the birthday (the 82nd) of Tom Stoppard, born Tomáš Sraussler in Czechoslovakia on July 3, 1937. Just before Hitler marched in, Tomáš’s parents’ employer, a shoe manufacturer of some wit named Jan Bafa, realizing that this was no joke, sent all his Jewish employees abroad, including Tomáš’s father, a company doctor. So Tomáš, at an American school in British India, became Tom, and then his English stepfather (his Czech dad died in the Japanese occupation of Singapore), Major Kenneth Stoppard, made him Tom Stoppard and, into the bargain, insisted that he was really English. So today’s question is, can we regard this Tom Stoppard as a purveyor of Czech humor? I think so, and Stoppard began to realize it, too, when in the late 70s he became interested in the Czech resistance and its absurdist authors, translating into English (among others) the work of one Vaclav Havel. But the clincher is that Tom (or Tomáš) Stoppard shares his birthdate with Franz Kafka, born in Prague on July 3, 1888. And was Kafka funny? Surely not!! But he was, and that’s another story, for another July 3rd. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Jul 2019, 11:58

"While the nation is buoyant with patriotism, and all hearts are attuned to praise, it is with sorrow we come to strike the one discordant note, on this one-hundredth anniversary of our country’s birth." Matilda Gage, 1876.

It seems too easy to forget that those ‘gentlemen’ who, gathered together in Philadelphia, declared themselves to the world to be revolutionaries, were really being rather impolitic. George III went further, declaring them to be rebels and outlaws. Had the word been available, he might have added “terrorists” to the list. So it was entirely appropriate that in Philadelphia, at a gathering called together to celebrate (in a self-satisfied way) the very centennial of the world’s first ‘new nation,’ that a group of impolite persons crashed the party and declared themselves to be totally unsatisfied with the way things had turned out in the land of the free and the home of the brave. These people were called ‘harridans’ and ‘harpies,’ so you can probably guess they were a bunch of women, to count them five, and their names were Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joselyn Gage, Sara Andrews Spencer, Lillie Devereux Blake, and Phoebe W. Couzins (she of St. Louis), each of them women with a history of making trouble, usually having to do with some sort or other of equality, for slaves for instance. And they believed, horrors, in all sorts of equality between men and women, even within marriage (three of them were married women who went so far as to say that they had the right to refuse sex with their husbands!!). So on July 4, 1876, at a celebration led by the President Pro Tem of the Senate (President Grant was indisposed and unable to attend), Anthony, Gage, Spencer, Blake, and Couzins presented to the assembled dignitaries and citizens Matilda Gage’s “Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States”. And I fear that they were mansplained right off the stage (their Declaration, they were told, was not on the agenda for the day). So, they marched off and had their own meeting. But a woman’s work is never done, and the ladies were not finished in 1876, and if you read their Declaration at your patriotic gatherings today, you will likely admit that they aren’t finished yet. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Jul 2019, 12:32

"Veronica stood as light, and she told the truth." Graham Turley, Veronica Guerin's husband, at a memorial service for her, 1997.

These days, with powerful politicians inveighing against ‘fake news’ and suggesting that journalists are ‘the enemies of the people’, it’s good to remember that while professional journalists do have “biases” (they are, after all, human beings) they also aim to make known the truth, and they have been known to go to prison rather than compromise that aim. And some (more in recent years, sadly) have died in the pursuit of truth. One such was Veronica Guerin, born in Dublin on July 5, 1958, and murdered in Dublin on June 26, 1996. The daughter of a successful accountant, she grew up a kind of all-Irish kid, great at sports, devout in her religion, and wanting to follow her dad as far as careers went. So she majored in accountancy and, after college, married, had a son, and dreamed of bringing him up (like her) to be a rabid Manchester United supporter. But there was something in her make-up, evidenced perhaps in her (at 15) playing in an Irish national soccer final with a slipped disc, that made an accountant’s life improbable. She first got sidetracked into politics, as a press agent, and then began working for a Dublin newspaper. Right from the first she went after dangerous game, reporting on the clandestine and not-so-clandestine workings—in the Irish Republic—of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). But it wasn’t the IRA who killed her. Guerin put her accountancy skills back to work to cover Ireland’s drug trade by ‘following the money.’ Her reports were startlingly accurate, partly because she’d gained the respect of some leading drug lords, and but it was a dangerous game. She was shot and wounded at home in 1995, then threatened with worse if she kept at it. But Veronica (“Ronny”) Guerin kept at it. She was marked down for death at an underworld meeting in a seedy industrial estate. The next day, while her car idled at a Dublin stoplight, she was shot—seven times, just to make sure. She’s dead of course, but Veronica Guerin has become a monument to press freedom, and to the courage it can take to tell the truth. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Jul 2019, 14:02

"I wish to be the wife of the president of the United States! A very modest wish. Let me give my reasons. Ambition. Ambition. " Louise Caroline Tuthill, from an epistolary satire on President Andrew Jackson, 1833.

In November 1991, in the teeth of a frigid nor’easter, I took my parents around Plimoth Plantation, where we visited the house (hovel, really) of Mistress Mary Brewster, wife of the infant colony’s minister. She was making a winter stew, but (being a colonialist) I asked her some questions about other things, including about a few theological books on a shelf. “Oh, no, sir,” saith she, “I only discuss such matters with Mr. Brewster.” It was a good lesson in the status of women in early New England. By July 6, 1799, when Louisa Caroline Huggins was born in New Haven, CT, things had changed to the extent that Louisa was very well educated, in a course of study modeled after that taken by the young men of Yale College—except that there was no Greek, and no mathematics, both thought to be beyond the female ken. But this young lady took to learning like a duck to water, and by the time she’d married, had four children, and buried her husband (in 1825) Louisa Caroline Huggins Tuthill was already an accomplished writer. And she had begun to publish; but in the 1820s and 1830s young widows of good background, even one with a rich dad and a dead lawyer husband, did not put themselves out in public, and that included “publishing,” so she did it anonymously. But when one of her books, on rhetoric, The Young Ladies Reader (1839) went viral (as we might say today), Louisa Caroline Huggins Tuthill ‘came out’ (as we might also say today) and began to write and publish in her own name. Perhaps because it was such an unconventional thing to do, much of it was pretty conventional stuff, advice on how to behave, but she did write satires, she did develop the temerity to advise young men, she did use new literary forms (her Nursery Book, 1849, read like an epistolary novel), and she even essayed fiction, in a novel with the rather daring title of My Wife (1846). She’s remembered most today, however, for a scholarly work that, by definition, took her yet further afield from the traditional bonds of womanhood, America’s very first History of Architecture (1848). One wonders whether Mistress Brewster would have approved, but one hopes so. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Jul 2019, 12:31

"As an oracle to the goddess, the female outcast speaks as prophetess of times to come, interpreter of dreams of an unrevealed future." Florence Farr.

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (aurora aurea) has lately been reincarnated in multiple versions, but even in its heyday (circa 1890-1920) it was highly fissiparous. I’ve noticed it because three people featured in these Notes were members (the theatrical producer Annie Horniman, the poet W. B. Yeats, and the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne), and now comes a fourth, Florence Farr, born in Bromley, Kent, on July 7, 1860. Farr was also known as Mary Lester and Florence Emery, though not as mystical identities. Rather they were stage names, for she was an accomplished actress. She was also other things, a writer of note and an apostle of mysticism who took her fascination with the occult all the way to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where in 1912 she became headmistress of a Buddhist girls’ school and (after her death in 1917) underwent Buddhist funerary rites. By her own lights, then, Florence Farr will now be somewhere else, but in her Farr life she was a beauty and an inspiration to many, and indeed figured in the writings of Yeats and also Ezra Pound and George Bernard Shaw (who was, for a time, her lover). Florence Farr, the daughter of an eminent scientist, was very well educated, began a teaching career, and then took to the stage. She was married briefly to an actor, who left her his name (Emery) before abandoning her, and (as a divorcée and inheritor of a small legacy) she began to write stage plays at about the same time she joined the Golden Dawn (1890). Farr continued to act, rather well, and also became known for her dramatic poetry readings (the poems being her own and others’), her singing (she accompanied herself on the psaltery), and her successful ventures in stage production (with Annie Horniman). It was, then, quite a surprise when in 1912 Florence Farr gave it all up (literally, spreading her most prized possessions among her best friends—the psaltery went to Yeats) and sailed off to Ceylon and destiny. ©

[If, Like me you quite enjoy digging into curious by-ways in history a bit of research into the Golden Dawn pays rich dividends. Their practices were esoteric and at times bordering on erotic fantasy. Look for Grace Kelly......]
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Jul 2019, 11:48

”I write rigmarole English, staining your goodly, godly tongue.” G. V. Desani, on his novel All About H> Hatterr.

G. V. Desani died in 2000, aged 91, in Ft. Worth, TX. Most of his papers went to the University of Texas, where Desani had been professor of philosophy. Much of the rest of his estate—notably his copyrights—went to UNICEF. There would have been a lot left over in his ‘little’ (600 square foot) Austin studio, for Desani loved to collect “little things,” which he thought a kind of worship, and he loved also to give them away, perhaps as sacred gifts. But most of those artifacts seemed to have been scattered in the winds, like memorial ashes. Among his other memorials is a small website, at www.desani.org, where the introductory essay is entitled “Life of a 20th-Century Adventurer.” A better title might have been “A Singular Life,” and not because Desani never married and left no children behind, but because it was a life no one else could have lived. Govindas Vishnoodas Desani was born in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 8, 1909, the son of a rich merchant who later—back in British India—faced with a son who wanted no trade but in books, said “you want to read? I’ll buy you a bookstore.” Instead, Desani, expelled from school and absconded from home at 13, taught himself, a vagabond boy who, fetched up in London, had learned enough to wangle a reader’s card from the British Museum, where his education continued. There followed (in Britain, back in India, and in many other places) a life of writing and traveling, learning and meditation, many years of trying (and failing) to obtain what he deprecatingly called a ‘guru license.’ Instead he became, by turns, a reporter, an essayist, a novelist (his comic epic, a masterpiece in language, All About H. Hatterr, 1948, was a runaway best seller in Britain and the US), and a philosopher of religion, which is what he was (without any degree whatsoever, nor fraudulently) later in life, first at Oxford, and then at Texas (1967-1978) and then for 22 years at a succession of places (in Austin and Ft. Worth) where this singular man was looked after by friends and former students. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Jul 2019, 10:25

'It was a wonderful life—an effaced life, like that of so many women … He could never have been what he was without her'. Benjamin Jowett to Hallam Tennyson, circa 1896.

These notes have already explained how, in several ways, Olivia Langdon enriched Samuel Clemens. Now comes Emily Smallwood, born in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, on July 9, 1813, only a few miles from the village of Somersby, where Alfred Tennyson’s father was vicar. The families were socially acquainted, and Emily probably came to know Alfred through his sisters, for they all attended the same dame school in Horncastle, but she remembered first meeting him in 1822. By 1830, when Alfred’s brother Charles married Emily’s younger sister Louisa, he loved Emily Smallwood (if we can trust his poem “The Bridesmaid”) and soon the love was requited in an engagement that lasted forever, for the two did not marry until June 1850. That was a long time even by Victorian standards. There were several reasons for it, not least the unhappiness of that first Tennyson-Smallwood match, but at length Charles and Louisa were reconciled, other doubts fell away, and Emily Smallwood became Emily Tennyson. Despite her constitutional frailties, she birthed their two sons and very actively mothered them, climbing games and all. But before and after Emily fell prey to ill health (now thought to have been rooted in gynecological problems) she became more than that. She handled all of Tennyson’s business affairs and most of his correspondence, listened to his talk as well as to his poetry, read his proofs, set some of his poems to music; and as he became Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate of England, and withal a substantial gentleman, she ran the family’s two households and its farm while keeping the poet in touch with his laureate duties. Not only that, but she survived Alfred by four years and had much to do with the writing (credited to their son, Hallam) of the excellent Memoir (1897) of Tennyson’s life and works. It was dedicated (“By Permission”) to Queen Victoria. One thinks it might better have been dedicated to Emily, Lady Tennyson. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 Jul 2019, 12:59

"Professor Dewar// Is a better man than you are// None of you asses// Can condense gases. " E. C. Bentley, 1905.

According to a recent piece in the New York Times, the pun is back in style, but we shall have to pull up our socks if we are to challenge the Victorians (early, middle, and late) as punsters. Indeed it was an age in which the play on words was an art form, which probably accounts for the legend of the Spoonerism, involuntary (and bizarre) malapropisms attributed to the absent-minded Oxford don William Spooner (1844-1930), who grew “tired of addressing beary wenches.” Of a very different class were the “clerihews,” deliberately constructed four-liners which were more a play on proper names than on words per se. They were originally the creation of Edmund Clerihew Bentley, aka E. C. Bentley, born in London on July 10, 1875. The ‘clerihew’ so-called does qualify as Victorian, for Bentley devised his first as a bored scholar at St. Paul’s School, circa 1890, where his cricket-playing father (in life a senior civil servant) had sent the boy in hopes that he might learn something useful. Indeed Bentley did study at school, then went to Oxford to study some more, and then undertook to become a barrister. Instead he turned out a journalist and essayist, a much-loved one, of a rather conservative bent (Bentley’s best friend, from his St. Paul’s schooldays, was G. K. Chesterton). But as life would have it Bentley is more famed today for his side-lines than for his by-line. He is said to have invented the modern detective novel, and the book that did it, Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case, 1912, is still in print, even though it was originally intended as a satire on Conan Doyle’s infallible Sherlock. And then there was Bentley’s light verse, a great lot of it, of which the clerihew is, rightly, the most enduring. A clerihew is a short poem usually of very irregular meter but a rigidly AABB rhyming pattern, and is a play of words on a famous character, for instance Dante, who “. . . wrote the Inferno// on a bottle of Pernod.” Enough said? If not, there are hundreds more. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Jul 2019, 12:31

"The führer principle does not work very well in scientific projects, which are essentially collective endeavors and depend on the critical give and take of many minds." Samuel Goudsmit.

The short word ‘spin’ has a long history and many usages; indeed in Indian English it signifies an unmarried lady (spinster?). In its most recent incarnation—as in political-speak, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear—it first appeared in 1977, in the USA. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t tell us how that happened, but I like to think it came out of physics, a discipline that has proven itself to be lexically fecund, especially in quantum pursuits, where we have (inter many alia) ‘quark,’ ‘charm,’ and ‘Schrodinger’s Cat.’ There we will also find ‘spin,’ an old word that was in 1925 spun to new uses by a (then) very young Dutch physicist named Samuel Abraham Goudsmit. Born in The Hague on July 11, 1902, Goudsmit (the son of a manufacturer of toilet parts) published his first scholarly article in physics at the age of 19. His discovery (and christening) of “spin” came four years later, in a precocious attempt to explain some of the oddities of the new quantum physics. The way it’s put in books (and in a remembrance of Goudsmit put out in 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences) is “internal angular momentum,” and without further explanation I can tell you that it’s something electrons do in what might be called their spare time. “Spin” just about sums it up, and “spin” (once independently confirmed, a very few years later) signified the conceptual triumph of quantum physics. Goudsmit moved to the USA in 1927, where (at Michigan, MIT, and Brookhaven) he made further advances and headed up important research efforts, notably in wartime. Goudsmit worked with a passion in that latter role, at the head of the “Alsos” project, for back in Holland his dad Isaac, the toilet manufacturer, and his mom Marianne, the milliner, were murdered by the Nazis, human victims of a vast political crime upon which one cannot put a spin. Samuel their son died full of years and honors in 1978. His immense collections of private papers and artifacts (in Physics and Egyptology) have survived him. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Jul 2019, 12:39

"Blossom of snow, may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever." Oscar Hammerstein II, 1959.

It’s certain that Oscar Hammerstein II was named after his grandfather, and took after him too, for Oscar I was a famed opera impresario, and we all know about Oscar II’s musical genius. But our Oscar’s full name was Oscar Greeley Glendenning Ritter von Hammerstein, so what’s with the middle names? I pass on the Glendenning and the Ritter, and for that matter, the ‘von,’ but my theory is that the first Oscar was such a successful immigrant that he wanted his grandson named after Horace Greeley, the great publicist, editor, and scourge of the Know-Nothings (the appropriately-named nativist party of his day). Any rate, the Hammersteins had continued their assimilationist course so far that William (Oscar II’s father) had married a gentile, Alice Nimmo, and joined a Universalist church (although he was buried, in 1917, out of Harlem’s Temple Israel). But Oscar Greeley Glendenning Ritter von Hammerstein (II), born on July 12, 1895, was perhaps baptized in and certainly attended the Church of the Divine Paternity, a Universalist communion. If the religious background was mixed, so was the theatrical. Oscar I was in opera. Father William directed the most successful vaudeville theatre of his day, the Hammerstein Victrola, and uncle Arthur Hammerstein (after a brief career in bricklaying) was a theatrical producer. So we might say that our birthday boy, Oscar II that is, followed them all, and with a catholicity that still amazes. And in the process Oscar Hammerstein collaborated with just about everybody who was anybody, but most notably with George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Richard Rodgers. Taking them all together, they gave us (to name a few) Show Boat (1927), Sweet Adeline (1929), Oklahoma! (1943), Carmen Jones (1943), Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949),The King and I (1951), The Flower Drum Song (1958), and The Sound of Music (1959). Oscar II died 9 months after The Sound of Music was first staged, and the last song lyric he wrote was for “Edelweiss.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 Jul 2019, 12:18

There are cooks, and there are historians, and there are writers, and there are linguists. To be all four must be an unusual combination. From an American obituary of Yan-kit So, 2002.

30 years ago, while Paulette and I dined at the Killermont Polo Club, then Glasgow’s premier ‘Indian,’ I complimented the waiter. “The best Indian dinner I’ve ever had,” I said. He drew himself up ever so slightly and said, “no, sir: Anglo-Indian.” It was a good lesson. One never knows how foreign “foreign food” is until one goes there. But another way to find out, apparently, was to restaurant-hop in London with Yan-kit So, famed for her studies of Chinese cuisine. At one or another of her favorite eateries, she would cast the menu aside and negotiate with the waiter, then the chef, and they (and Yan-kit So’s fortunate companions) would make a meal of it—and it would not be Anglo-Chinese. Yan-kit So was born in Guangdong Province, China, on July 13, 1933, into the family of a tea merchant. Life’s unexpectedness, and her talents, made her into a historian, and a historian’s wife at Syracuse University into the bargain. His early death (1967) made her into a widow with a child and a PhD, and while in England readying her husband’s book for publication and coping with severe depression, she took to food and to the study of food. She brought to it her scholarly training as well as her kitchen magic, and her first publication (Classic Chinese Cookery Book, 1984) was a success. As she grew in stature, she took ever more care with the culture and history of the cuisine, and her later books, notably Classic Food of China (1992) are said to be great and informative reads even if one never wields a wok. While single-mindedly working to preserve Chinese kitchen culture (not least for 2nd- and 3rd-generation Chinese families in Europe), Yan-kit So threw herself into the intellectual life of London, notably as an active private patron of the British Museum and, as a side dish so to speak, an aficionado of ballroom dancing. Her company, in restaurants or at home (at parties often with a culinary theme), was much sought after, a social whirl that she kept in motion until her death in 2001. As she had wished, she was buried next to her husband at the cemetery in Waterford, Connecticut. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Jul 2019, 03:27

"The fascination of any search after truth lies not in the attainment, which at best is found to be very relative, but in the pursuit." Florence Bascom.

Among the compendia distinguished Americans use to learn where they rank in their distinctions (e.g. the varied “Who’s Who?” directories) is Gale’s American Men and Women of Science, now in its 33rd edition. A measure of how slowly Gale picked up on trends was that, until 1971, it was called American Men of Science. Even in its first edition it had to breach that restriction in a few cases, and among these scientific gender-benders was Florence Bascom, already in 1906 so distinguished in geology that she couldn’t be excluded by a mere slip-of-the-title. Florence Bascom was born in Williamstown, MA, on July 14, 1862, where she grew up in a family that honored female aspirations and then enjoyed the further good fortune that her dad, John Bascom, became president of the University of Wisconsin which had admitted women almost from its founding. At Madison Florence first graduated in the humanities, but she had become interested in science and studied geology for a second bachelor’s and then a master’s degree, finally a PhD (only the second American female to earn that distinction). That all took her a while, and along the way she taught science and math in several places, including the historically black Hampton Institute, before settling at Bryn Mawr College where she fought to make geology a full sister science in the college’s curriculum. Her success may be measured by the fact that in the late 1930s 8 of the first 11 female fellows of the American Geological Society were Florence Bascom students. As for Florence herself, she accomplished several “female firsts,” including her stint (1895-1901) as a research officer for the American Geological Survey. So, while her father left his name on the campus geography at Madison (Bascom Hill, atop which sits Bascom Hall), his daughter’s name runs through the bedrock of American geology, not only in her studies of the formation and composition of the American Appalachians, but in the pioneering work of the women she taught and mentored at Bryn Mawr College. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Jul 2019, 13:05

"I am convinced that man has suffered in his separation from the soil and from the other living creatures of the world." Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water, 1959.

Gavin Maxwell was born on the family estates in southwestern Scotland on July 15, 1914. One might describe him as gentry, a younger son of a younger son in the line of the Maxwell baronetcy. Or he was an aristocrat, for his mother, Lady Mary Percy, was a daughter of the duke of Northumberland. His father died in battle (at Antwerp) when Gavin was just a few months old, so the boy was raised by his mother to a sporting life and, possibly, a career in estate management. Educated at English and Scottish public schools, then at Oxford, he seemed to take well to this life, and in WWII served as an instructor in ‘special operations’ warfare. Meanwhile, he developed a deep love for the western isles, and began to find his feet as a writer on nature, although there was also a failed shark fishery along the way. In the mid ‘50s he traveled to Iraq to write on the southern marshes and the people and animals that lived there. That book (first entitled A Reed Shaken by the Wind) won great acclaim, but the Iraq trip led to his most famous work because he brought back with him, to the isles, an otter, a foundling he called Mijbil. It turned out to be a subspecies, now called “Maxwell’s Otter” (Lutrogale perspicillata maxwellori), and Maxwell’s book about it, Ring of Bright Water, made him famous. It also brought tragedy, and another story, for Gavin Maxwell was homosexual and, in the circumstances of his life and time, a closeted one who tried to establish heterosexual relations. First there was a failed marriage and then a failed affair with the poet Kathleen Raines (whose poem “The Marriage of Psyche”) gave Maxwell his title but whose mishandling of Mijbil caused the otter’s death. Other Maxwell books followed, two at least on otters, but life was lonely, a bipolar disorder deepened, and a cancer developed that took Maxwell’s life in 1969, the same year in which the film of the book, starring Virginia McKenna, appeared. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Jul 2019, 12:52

Rumour has it that the gardens of natural history museums are used for surreptitious burial of those intermediate forms between species which might disturb the orderly classifications of the taxonomist. David Lack, 1947.

One of the on-line sources for the life of David Lack implied that he achieved his fame as an ornithologist “despite, in some respects, remaining an amateur.” This puzzling snootiness may refer to Lack’s lack of a first-class degree from Cambridge, or the time it took him to achieve a recognized scientific position (at Oxford, in 1945, as director of an ornithological institute), or very possibly Lack’s irrepressible enthusiasm for his work. More likely it’s because Lack’s science was almost entirely observational, field-work rather than lab-work, and because his fame rests on his popularizations of natural history, notably through his best-seller The Life of the Robin (1945 and still in print) and Darwin’s Finches (1947 and still in print). The robin in question was the English robin, for although Lack did much field work in North America he chose the English species (quite different) as a popular and very common bird, thus likely to attract a readership for an essentially scientific study. David Lack was also English (born in London on July 16, 1910), at least on his father’s side. His mother brought a wider ethnic mix to the boy, from as far afield as the Caucasus, and her interest in acting may also have had its influence. After his mild success at Cambridge he taught school, histrionically, but even before the war interrupted everything his scientific interest in birds led him onto important natural history expeditions and to a couple of significant scientific publications. Indeed Cambridge (as if by apology) conferred on Lack an ScD “by publication” in 1947. Lack’s meticulous observations of bird behavior (including Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos) led him to make important modifications in scientists’ ideas about how species form out of ‘native’ populations. Still, I really like his amateurishness. Darwin’s Finches, which I have read more than once, is an entrancing book not least because of Lack’s obvious ‘amateur’ enthusiasms for his living subjects and for informing his living readers. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Jul 2019, 12:08

"I could never have danced as I did if I had been an obedient servant." Carmelita Maracci to Agnes de Mille, undated.

A singular one among our “immigrant” citizenry (when you think a minute, that’s almost all of us) was Carmelita Maracci. Her mother was a ‘real’ immigrant (German) and her father, too (Italo-Spanish, and a cousin of the great operatic singer Adelina Patti), and Carmelita’s parents actually told her she was of Hispanic birth (a Uruguayan!!), but in prosaic, American-style fact Maracci was born in Goldfield, Nevada, on July 17, 1908. She was educated in private and parochial schools, doubtless helpful to her, but she found herself, her native talent so to speak, in her dancing lessons in (of all places) Fresno, CA. By the 1930s, she was based in LA and dancing for money, solo and in company, touring in varied venues across the country, and she was a sensation. Her choreography was mostly her own, a personal statement, and although it was commonly set to classical music written for the ballet, Maracci made it something else; not exactly ‘modern dance,’ her art was rendered in Spanish as “baile folklorico,” or ballet as folklore. It was Hispanic, and it was political, too, most notably during the years of the Spanish Civil War, and her radical politics and her fiery personality became part of her legend, with incidents galore. She danced blood and passion, Goya and el Greco: “I danced hard about what I saw and lived . . . I was one of the dispossessed.” In truth she was a child of privilege, a public-private paradox that was perhaps hard for her to bear. In the same way, Carmelita Maracci saw herself as an immigrant even though (as she eventually learned from her husband, Lee Freeson) she was native born. Increasingly, despite rapturous reviews and adoring audiences, Maracci turned away from choreography and public performance to teaching, and those of her students who could stand her pace and absorb her politics included Gerald Arpino and Charles Chaplin (and Geraldine), Agnes de Mille and Julie Newmar, Jerome Robbins and Leslie Caron. So Carmelita Maracci left her mark on our culture—which was, of course, also hers. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Jul 2019, 12:12

When you win the toss--bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have severe doubts, consult a colleague then bat. W. G. Grace.

Ask an English person to name the greatest English cricketer, and whatever his or her final choice you are almost certain to hear the name of W. G. Grace, William Gilbert Grace that is, who was born near Bristol on July 18, 1848. As a batsman, he was the first man score 100 centuries in first-class cricket, and (despite his rather portly figure) he was no slouch as a bowler, either. His exploits on the pitch (generally for Gloucestershire or England) were many and magnificent, but it’s also worth noting that Grace was “present at the creation,” not of cricket itself (an ancient game), but of modern “first-class” cricket, with its “county” sides and its international “test” matches. He may also have been the man who began the erasure of the distinction between “gentlemen” (who, as amateurs, played for the love of the game) and “players” (who may have loved the game but played it for hard cash). Ever accounted a gentleman, Grace never made quite enough as a poor relief physician (a rather good one, by the way), and as he rose to sporting fame the cricketing authorities saw to it that he could continue his sporting habit while maintaining a certain style of life. What may be more remarkable about him was his family, a cricketing tribe if ever there was one. He and two brothers (‘the three Graces’) played together for Gloucester and England, and other brothers and cousins played well, too. Much of this owed to W. G.’s mother, Martha, who besides taking the time and trouble to bear and raise nine children was the sort of woman of whom sportsmen were made. As a child, she’d flown across the Avon strapped to a box kite (invented by her father), and as sister, mother and aunt she presided over a veritable cricketing tribe of Graces, Gilberts, and Pococks. News of her sudden death (in late July of 1884 just before her 73rd birthday) arrived at Old Trafford, Manchester, and caused an abandonment of the match then in progress between Gloucestershire (W. G. playing) and Lancashire, and at the suggestion of the Lancashire captain. That singular event is another story, for another day. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Jul 2019, 12:14

Muffin the Mule, Peregrine the Penquin, Katy the Kangeroo, and Oswald the Ostrich.

British children of a certain age, now in their 70s, will remember a Mule called Muffin. He appeared on the BBC almost with the birth of television and had his own show for about a decade ending in 1956. His raft of supporting characters also had alliterative names and distinctive personas, but Muffin was the star. He was stubborn (as a mule) and mischievous too, but so beloved that the BBC received fan mail for him, and tons of carrots too. I’m not sure of Muffin’s birth-date, for he was a puppet character and an evolved one, but his puppet master was Ann Hogarth. She was born (on July 19, 1910) Margaret Ann Jackson, and after the briefest of acting careers she took up with, and in 1933 married, John Bussell, who had been messing about with puppets and model theatres from childhood. Together they created the Hogarth Puppets, a touring company which enjoyed great success in the provinces, and in London, in the 1930s decade. Their shows included (this was Britain, remember) puppet ballet, a puppet orchestra, and scenes from Wilde, Gilbert & Sullivan, and Shakespeare, but despite all that it was (until Muffin and television) more a paying hobby than a profession. It was also a cooperative affair, including master puppet-makers like Fred Tickner from the London Marionette Theatre, and in due course the Hogarth’s daughter, Sally. As when they began touring, Ann Hogarth was chief operator of the puppets, and when Muffin appeared he had a human co-star, Annette Mills, the elder sister of Sir John Mills and a character in her own right. Usually, Annette played the piano, and sang, while Muffin (operated from above by Ann Hogarth) worked the stage—which was the lid of Annette’s grand piano. But mere descriptions cannot suffice. You had to have been there, watching in black & white TV, BBC live, broadcast from Alexandra Palace, to understand fully, and if you had been I am sure you would have sent in a carrot, too. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Jul 2019, 12:31

'I love the Westerns . . . It seems to me that movement against a background is the basis of the cinema.'' Dilys Powell.

Lovers of ancient Greece are ‘philhellenes,’ and one of the greatest of them (in my time) was Elizabeth Dilys Powell, born in Shropshire on July 20, 1901. In her 20s and 30s, she spent much time in Greece, digging things up, and in her age (which was long, for she died in 1995) she wrote feelingly and intelligently about ancient (and modern) Greece. Her love affair with ‘the classics’ began in school, and she would have continued it at Oxford but for a brother’s advice, no doubt well meant, that studying the ancient languages was too tough for girls. So Dilys, as she became known, got a First in modern languages instead; but her boyfriend Humfry Payne was in classics and the two of them caused almost as much trouble as Helen and Paris by breaking most of Oxford’s (then) many rules about boys and girls after hours. Humfry went off to Greece to dig and study; Dilys followed him. They were married in 1926, but despite her love for Humfry and for Greece they lived apart for much of each year, for Dilys Powell had embarked on another love affair, an unlikely one for a philhellene, and that was with the modern cinema. Dilys Powell soon became, and remained for decades, the chief film critic for the Sunday Times. Her approach was neither cruel nor kind, and (though she could be razor sharp) mere sarcasm was not her mode. Instead, she approached film rather like she approached an ancient Greek dig, say Humfry Payne’s excavation of the temple of Hera, as the developing expression of a culture, and actors and directors as artists who (if they had botched the film under review) might be able to do something better, in the fullness of time—or even next year. As for Greece, in 1936 Payne died of blood poisoning contracted at a dig, and in her own eloquent way Powell never forgot that, making Greece (ancient and modern) her avocation, in several books, and as the president (only the second female to hold that post) of Britain’s Classical Association. Of course Powell also continued to review films, and the cinema, almost to the day of her death. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Jul 2019, 11:59

"A man is likewise form and expression, a written sign thrown into boundless matter, an undifferentiated word of what is." Mohammed Dib.

After the Prophet’s death, the rapid geographic spread of Islam and Arabic carried with it more than a whiff of imperialism, an irony not missed by the Algerian writer Mohammed Dib, born in the western reaches of French Algeria on July 21, 1920. His poverty-stricken childhood was made harder by the fact that his family had once been economically secure, but his mother not only coped economically (a theme that would inform his first novel, La Grande Maison, 1952) but also saw to his education. Here was another irony, for the French colonial system awarded different qualifications, one “indigenous” and the other “French,” a difficulty Mohammed negotiated by earning both. He didn’t start out as a writer but as a trainee accountant and then, in WWII, as a translator for the British, the Americans, and the Free French. “Translation” would be one of his themes, too, as he combined in himself and in his writings support for Algerian nationalism in the independence struggles of the post-war period and a veneration for French language and culture. Ironic to some, and probably to Dib himself, but he also believed that there was an organic, generic connection between his Francophone leanings and his nationalist loyalties. When, as the war of liberation continued, his nationalism got him exiled from Algeria his French friends (including his fellow Algerian Albert Camus) persuaded the government to allow Mohammed to settle in France. And there, with a French wife, Mohammed Dib stayed, albeit with occasional forays (as visiting professor) to Scandinavia and the USA, widely respected as the doyen of Maghrebi Arab culture, yet writing (some 30 volumes of fiction and poetry) in French and musing on the oddities of being an exile in one’s chosen culture. When Mohammed Dib died (in May 2003), the French minister of culture memorialized him as the embodiment of a “spiritual bridge” between France and North Africa—perhaps the final irony of Dib’s life. ©
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