Recent links of note:
“Night of the guillotine”
John Adamson, Literary Review
Unlike medieval and ancient historians, those studying the French Revolution are spoiled for source material—indeed sometimes overwhelmed by it. To combat this problem, the scholar of early modern France Colin Jones fastens on twenty-four hours, from July 27 to 28, 1794, in which Robespierre was imprisoned, freed by his Jacobin allies, re-captured, and, finally, executed along with his closest supporters. The surviving textual evidence for this dramatic episode includes newspaper reports, memoirs, and nearly two hundred interrogatories from city officials, which were collected in the days following Robespierre’s downfall. Combing through these neglected sources in his new book, The Fall of Robespierre: 24 Hours in Revolutionary Paris (Oxford University Press), Jones argues that, contrary to popular opinion, those responsible for the coup differed little ideologically from Robespierre himself; they were merely trying to strengthen the existing regime by eliminating a troublesome member. As John Adamson reports in Literary Review, Jones also dismantles simplistic portraits of a figure who had, earlier in his career, championed Enlightment principals such as the rights of women, the emancipation of slaves, and even the abolition of the death penalty.
“ ‘The Letters of Shirley Jackson’ Review: The Artist as Mad Housewife ”
Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
Shirley Jackson died in 1965 aged only forty-eight, after suffering years of poor health combined with her husband’s infidelity and lack of financial support. These biographical details, combined with the terrifying subject matter of her novels and short fiction, have done much to popularize the idea that she was a tortured soul. A new collection of her letters, however, edited by her son Laurence Jackson Hyman, reveals few signs of despair. Instead, we see the author overflowing with humor and determination, reveling in the “merry anarchy” of her home life. (Jackson ran a busy household of four children, for which she was both the primary breadwinner and caretaker.) Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal’s fiction columnist, discusses what the letters might reveal about her fiction and how solitude is not necessarily a prerequisite for a successful literary career. Laurence is not the only family member contributing to the current Jackson revival—her grandson, the French-American illustrator and painter Miles Hyman, recently had a show at Philippe Labaune Gallery, where he exhibited original drawings from a 2016 graphic novel adaptation of her short story The Lottery.
“Are you looking at me, Jimmy? Ten duels in literature”
Craig Raine, Times Literary Supplement
In this wide-ranging—if, at times, spasmodic—article, the Oxford literature professor Craig Raine discusses the treatment of duels in ten pieces of literature. In his estimation, there are three general patterns. Some scenes are ironic, some are serious, and some are “poised perfectly between the humorous and the heroic.” The Russians, of course, feature heavily. Pushkin, whose characters often find themselves in duels, met his own end while contending with a romantic rival at the age of thirty-seven. Lermontov had a similar fate, aged twenty-six. Their infamous legacies are often mentioned in later literature. Fitzgerald, writing a century later, included an alcohol-fueled duel in Tender is the Night that is full of “comic distortion,” as when Abe North, the second of the dueler McKisko, casually refers to a Pushkin duel—though he actually quotes from Lermontov. While duels might not be so common now, as Raine says, “Anger is never out of date.”
“Music for a While #48: Bach and Bach-ish.” Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“Meet Moszkowski,” by Jay Nordlinger. On a series of recordings presenting the complete piano music of Moritz Moszkowski.