Readings for a snowy Saturday

It snowed this morning, the kind of big heavy flakes that make audible contact with the ground when they fall. It feels like the snow days of my youth. I’ve been having a decadently late lunch of classic cold-weather food (grilled cheese sandwiches) and listening to the Met’s broadcast of their 1967 Aida with Leontyne Price. All in all, a very good way to spend a Saturday.

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading:

Greg Sandow on Handel, 18th-century excess, and how contemporary productions of Baroque opera aren’t baroque enough:

I’d love to see a production that reflected all this, that showed us what Baroque opera was really like. Of course, we could imagine that Handel didn’t want it that way, that he really wanted everything to be sober and dramatic. But there’s no evidence for such a belief (or at least none that I’ve ever read or heard about); I’d think that, to the extent that we can realistically judge his intentions, Handel expected to convey drama through the existing conventions of Baroque opera, which meant flamboyant craziness.

Interesting essay on British working-class autodidacticism, via Arts & Letters Daily:

While studying Greek philosophy at night, Joseph Keating performed one of the toughest and worst-paid jobs in the mine: shoveling out tons of refuse. One day, he was stunned to hear a co-worker sigh, "Heaven from all creatures hides the book of fate." "You are quoting Pope," Keating exclaimed. "Ayh," replied his companion, "me and Pope do agree very well."

Also from A&L Daily, a piece on great artistic endings from the SF Gate. I like their choice of examples. (Speaking of snow, that last paragraph of "The Dead" is very high on my list of Things I Would Give My Right Arm to Have Written Myself. And the rest of you? What do you wish you’d written?)

Speaking of endings, I’m almost finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and am caught between competing impulses to read as fast as I can to find out what happens, and to draw out the last section as long as possible. Here’s a favorite bit, from when the magician Jonathan Strange meets Byron, Shelley, and their entourage in Geneva in 1816, during the famous summer when Mary Shelley started writing Frankenstein. Each of them writes about the other to their publisher, John Murray:

Strange … was unsettled by Byron’s domestic arrangements. "I found his lordship at his pretty villa upon the shores of the lake. He was not alone. There was another poet called Shelley, Mrs Shelley and another young woman — a girl really — who called herself Mrs Clairmont and whose relationship to the two men I did not understand. If you know, do not tell me. Also present was an odd young man who talked nonsense the entire time — a Mr Polidori."

… Having taken an immediate dislike to each other, they had progressed smoothly to quarrelling about politics. Strange wrote: "… we immediately fell to talking of the battle of Waterloo — an unhappy subject since I am the Duke of Wellington’s magician and they all hate Wellington and idolize Buonaparte. Mrs Clairmont, with all the impertinence of eighteen, asked me if I was not ashamed to be an instrument in the fall of so sublime a man. No, said I."

Byron wrote: "He is a great partisan for the Duke of W. I hope for your sake, my dear Murray, that his book is more interesting than he is."

Strange finished: "People have such odd notions about magicians. They wanted me to tell them about vampyres."

— Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, chapter 50

(Vampyres! And the later cameo by Byron — who appears briefly in a Venetian salon, exhibiting "the Byronic profile and the Byronic expression" to the women in the room and complaining that Strange is too dull to serve as the model for the main character in his latest poem — is hilarious.)

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