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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR FEBRUARY 2010

February  28,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

All-in wrestling, however, which had long been practised in some British working-class districts under the name of Free-style wrestling, was widely popularized by American fashion.  The savage eighteenth-century 'nought barred' tradition of the Staffordshire mines and the Virginian mountains--where wrestlers were permitted to blind and castrate one another and bite off noses--had been gradually modified in both countries to the discouragement of actual mutilation; but 'All-in' still permitted blows and holds that were forbidden in official boxing and wrestling codes.  Its attraction lay not only in the savagery and skill, but also in the humour of the proceedings.  The crowd would cat-call blithely when the wrestlers were pinned down and nearly choked; it enjoyed seeing the light-weight referee slung out of the ring or crushed between two closely locked performers; and encouraged the performers themselves to do 'psychological' and dramatic clowning, of the sort that had made Max Baer more popular with the American masses than with strict lovers of boxing.  'All-in' enjoyed the approval of Mayfair, which imported East End wrestlers to perform at parties.  Society people attended Wrestling Clubs and the daughter of the British Rajah of Sarawak put herself in the forefront of fashion by actually marrying a leading all-in wrestler, as her sister had done a season or two before by marrying a band-leader.   

--The Long Week End by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

February  27,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

This occasion was remarkable for a commentary on the night-time illuminations of the Fleet by the B.B.C.  The commentator, who was himself a naval officer, began to speak at 10.45.  He was so overcome by emotion and the sudden dizzying effect of the night air after drinking the King's health below, that all he could say was:  'The Fleet's lit up. . . .  I mean with fairy lights. . . . When I say lit up, I mean outlined with tiny lights. . . .'  When the lights of the Fleet went out he added incoherently:  'Now the whole ruddy Fleet is gone. . . . but sea and sky. . . .'  The B.B.C. faded him out, and on the next day published a laconic announcement that the commentary had proved unsatisfactory.

--The Long Week End by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

February  26,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Fascism had ceased to mean merely the form of totalitarian government practised in Italy: it now covered all forms of totalitarian nationalism.

--The Long Week End by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

February  25,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

A detective story was considered well-written if the dnouement was a legitimate deduction from a small piece of evidence unobtrusively introduced in an early chapter, and if the suspicions successively cast on a number of persons in the story were plausible enough to divert attention from the criminal until the last moment.  The reader felt cheated if the author gave either too much or too little away.  In some hands the game grew more and more like a mathematic based on the supposition that infinity equals the square root of thirteen: the chain of reasoning was all that mattered.  The geography and chronology of, say, 'The Scented Bat Crime' was such that it could have been committed only by someone with a knowledge of Chinese, in desperate need of money, who could persuade a left-handed negro dwarf to train a monkey to climb up a ventilator pipe and squirt a rare South American poison into the victim's hot bath--with a syringe through the keyhole--at the one short moment when the French maid's back was turned. . . . Therefore it could not have been A, who did not need money; or B, who had an aversion to negroes and dwarfs; or C, who did not know Chinese; but the only remaining character unaccounted for--D, who surprisingly enough was the maid herself, whose innocence had seemed established by a perfect alibi.  Q.E.D.

--The Long Week End by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

February  24,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"That's very good bread," he declared.  "I'll allow you two beakers of mead." . . . .

"This is all of the highest interest to me," observed Fursey.  "I have never been in a tavern before."

The Gentle Anchorite took a long swallow of ale and scratched the black rusty hair on his chest reminiscently.

"It's a very efficient system," he remarked, "though I've been told that there are barbarous foreign lands too backward to appreciate its merits.  They have instead some highly involved method which they call 'coinage.'  They have little bits of gold and other metal, on which is engraved the head of the king; and in their benighted ignorance the backward inhabitants of those lands attach a disproportionate value to the tiny amulets and use them for all purposes of exchange."

"I seem to have heard," replied Fursey racking his brains, "that there were at one time big territories called Greece and Rome which had some such complicated system."

"There were," agreed the anchorite triumphantly.  "And where are they now?  Wiped from the face of the earth forever, while this country, the Island of Saints and Scholars, still endures."

--The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

February  23,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"It's not necessary to catch fish," he would say.  "Men fish because it brings them back to their boyhood.  They like scrambling over rocks and crossing streams and endangering their lives on lakes, just as they did when they were children.  Moreover, it brings them to pleasant, interesting places which they wouldn't ordinarily have a chance of seeing.  "All the same," the old man would add grimly, "I wish I could catch one of the little devils."

--The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

February  22,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The road that goes south from Cashel winds crazily; taking little runs over ridges, and curving so as to skirt the irregular boundaries of the farmlands.  It is an absurd, switchbacking Irish road, never straight for more than a hundred paces, encouraging the wayfarer with the hope that there may be something unusual and peculiar around the bend or over the brow of the hill.  The roadway is hemmed in on either side by hedges of blackthorn, brambles, gorse and sallies.  Through gaps, ineffectively blocked by old buckets and pieces of bedsteads, the traveler catches glimpses of the endless green fields and the contented cattle scattered over the plain.  From behind a gate an occasional cow, having nothing better to do, will stare with gloomy insolence at the passer-by; or on turning a corner you may suddenly come upon a donkey who to all appearances has been standing in the middle of the roadway for weeks sunk in unutterable boredom.  There are not many human habitations, and such few as there are, are built in the wrong places--on low ground, so that the rainwater gathers on the surrounding hillocks and flows with ease in through the front door.  When evening comes and the beginning of twilight, the road and countryside become charged with a peculiar opalescent atmosphere as if a fairy world had been superimposed upon our own, so that one almost doubts the reality of tree and field and, according as temperament dictates, either hurries on in terror of what one may meet, or else lingers filled with a sense of wonder and a content that seems to belong to another existence.

--The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

February  21,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Well, each of us is marked in one way or another, perhaps.  I should have said you were an artist, if I hadn't known it."

"Why?  Does my hair want cutting?"

"Oh, no!  It's only that you look at things and people as I've seen artists do, with an eye that moves steadily from detail to detail--rather looking them over than looking at them."

--Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley

February  20,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"What sort of a woman is she?  Has she her wits about her?"

"She's French, sir," replied Martin succinctly; adding after a pause:  "She has not been with us long, sir, but I have formed the impression that the young woman knows as much of the world as is good for her--since you ask me."

--Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley

[N.B.:  You'd never guess this was written by a British author.  They ain't called French letters for nothing.]

February  19,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mr. Manderson was, considering his position in life, a remarkably abstemious man.  In my four years of service with him I never knew anything of an alcoholic nature pass his lips, except a glass or two of wine at dinner, very rarely a little at luncheon, and from time to time a whisky and soda before going to bed.

--Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley

[N.B.:  My, my the times they are a changin'.  Nowadays, we'd consider Mr. Manderson a confirmed drunkard in need of radical intervention.  There's nothing worse than living in a society of reformed rakes.]

February  18,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Some coloured prints of Harunobu, with which Trent promised himself a better acquaintance, hung on what little wall-space was unoccupied by books.  These had a very uninspiring appearance of having been bought by the yard and never taken from their shelves.  Bound with a sober luxury, the great English novelists, essayists, historians, and poets stood ranged like an army struck dead in its ranks. 

--Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley

February  17,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Oh dear," she said, for she felt suddenly quite helpless, "I do think it is very embarrassing to be bombed."

--Beowulf: A Novel by Bryher

[N.B.:  There's been a number of studies done regarding effective opening lines for a novel.  Here's an example of an effective closing line.  This one is quite witty, too, given that the novel is set during the Blitz.]

February  16,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

If a private firm carried on in such a manner it would be bankrupt in a week; but public service was like a steam roller, it went in a straight line or it stopped.  As her uncle said to her every evening, "Why should a Ministry be efficient, my girl?  It hasn't anything to lose.  Provided you get your salary, it is no concern of yours what happens."

--Beowulf: A Novel by Bryher

February  15,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Down with homes, Angelina wanted to cry; why do we waste life in houses?  All she had ever wanted was to be free and have interesting work.  Everything would have been so different if she had been a man.  People would not have resented then the surge of vitality that infuriated them in petticoats.  New, that was a word that meant what heaven, she supposed, signified to most women.  Oh, let anything come, anything that would lift her above the level of this grey, this teashop world.

--Beowulf: A Novel by Bryher

February  14,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Where there is such suffering, there's a kind of holiness.  The Nazis knew they were doing wrong, so they hid everything; the Bolsheviks were convinced they were doing right, so they kept everything.  Like it or not, you're a Russian historian, a searcher for lost souls, and in Russia the truth is always written not in ink, like in other places, but in innocent blood.  These archives are as sacred as Golgotha.  In the dry rustle of the files you can hear the crying of children, the shunting of trains, the echo of footsteps down to the cellars, the single shot of the Nagant pistol delivering the seven grams.  The very paper smells of blood."

--Sashenka by Simon Montefiore

February  13,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Well, I don't eat meat, you see.  I hate killing anything.  Those poor calves or lambs!  No, I can't bear it, and besides, Nina says I mustn't put on weight!  I'm a vegetarian so I eat only this--even at Josef Vissarionovich's place.  'Beria's grass!' says Comrade Stalin.  'Look, Lavrenti Pavlovich is having his grass again!'

--Sashenka by Simon Montefiore

[N.B.:  Curiously--although not tellingly--two of history's greatest monsters, Hitler and Beria, were both vegetarians.  Which reminds me of Julius Caesar's remark from Shakespeare's eponymous play: "Let me have men about me that are fat; sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights:  yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;  He thinks too much: such men are dangerous."]

February  12,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"How do you reconcile the fact of your arrest with your claim of innocence?  Begin your confession!  Do not wait until we force you!"

Sashenka was rattled.  What was he demanding?  If she admitted something trivial would that satisfy him?  She thought back over Vanya's careful instructions as they sat on the swinging hammock in the dark hot garden that desperate night:  "Confess nothing.  Without a confession, they can't touch you!  Believe me, darling, I know what I'm talking about.  I've broken legions of men and perhaps this'll be their revenge on me.  But don't invent some little crime.  It won't ease the pressure!  If they have something specific, they'll confront you.  If they want something specific, they'll sweat it out of you."

--Sashenka by Simon Montefiore

February  11,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Laurent Matheron's early biography of Goya recalls an overheard conversation that, though it may not have been accurate word for word, rings true in all essentials.  What the academics wanted and encouraged in their young charges, said Goya in his old age and exile, was the abstraction of "Always lines, never forms."  But, he went on, "where do they find these lines in nature?  Personally I see only forms that are lit up and forms that are not, planes that advance and planes that recede, relief and depth.  My eye never sees outlines or particular features or details.  I do not count the hairs in the beard of the man who passes by any more than the buttonholes on his jacket attract my notice.  My brush should not see better than I do."

--Goya by Robert Hughes

February  10,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Any trauma makes you think of worse trauma: it sets the mind worrying and fantasizing about what else might be in store, and whether you can bear it if it comes.  Much of the pain is in the slow waiting.  What Goya had been through in his sudden illness was not a fantasy, but it was a mystery.  Neither he nor any of the doctors he might have consulted could possibly have diagnosed what was wrong with him, because such diagnosis was not within the reach of the medical knowledge of his time.  (If it had been, we might have more chance of naming his affliction ourselves).  To fall badly ill, sustain grievous injury, yet not be able to name what the trouble is, know whether it is temporary or permanent, or, if the former, make any guesses about how long it will last, whether it will ruin your career and your normal social relations or eventually sheathe its claws and let you alone--all that is an experience that verges on desperation.  But for Goya there was something else, something worse: deafness means isolation.

--Goya by Robert Hughes

February  9,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is not at all inevitable that an artist is as good at pain as he is at pleasure.  An artist can handle one without convincingly suggesting the other, and many have.  Hieronymus Bosch, the fifteenth-century Netherlandish mystic whose paintings were so avidly collected by the gloomy Spanish monarch Felipe II and, enshrined in the royal collections, would in due course exercise such influence on the fascinated Goya, was not--despite the title of his most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights--especially good at depicting the marvels of sensuality.  His hells are always genuinely frightening and credible, his heavens scarcely believable at all.  Exactly the opposite problem arises with his great Baroque antitype, Peter Paul Rubens.  Look at a Rubens Crucifixion, that noble and muscular body hammered with degrading iron spikes to the fatal tree, and you hardly feel there is any death in it: its sheer physical prosperity, that abundance of energy, defies and in some sense defeats the very idea of torment.  Rubens's damned souls are actors, howling their passion to tatters; one does not feel their pain, except as a sort of theological proposition.  The rhetoric overwhelms and displaces the reality (if one can speak of "reality" in such a context).  But Goya truly was a realist, one of the first and greatest in European art.

--Goya by Robert Hughes

February  8,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is not true that calamitous events are bound, or even likely, to excite great tragic images.  Nearly sixty years after the bomb bay doors of the Enola Gay opened to release Little Boy, and a new level of human conflict, over Hiroshima, there is still no major work of visual art marking the birth of the nuclear age.  No esthetically significant painting or sculpture commemorates Auschwitz.  It is most unlikely that a lesser though still socially traumatic event, such as the felling of the World Trade Center in 2001, will stimulate any memorable work of art.  What we do remember are the photos, which cannot be exceeded.

--Goya by Robert Hughes

February  7,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Look at the guests in the hotel, they are rich.  Those women with lifted faces and dyed hair and awful little dogs.'  She said again with one of her flashes of disquieting wisdom, 'You seem to get afraid of being old when you're rich.'

--Loser Takes All by Graham Greene

February  6,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

[H]er cruelty was a kind of pride which kept her going; it was her best quality, she would have been merely pitiable without it.

--The Fallen Idol by Graham Greene

February  5,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'How much do you earn a year with your Westerns, old man?'

'A thousand.'

'Taxed.  I earn thirty thousand free.  It's the fashion.  In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings.  Governments don't, so why should we?  They talk of the people and the proletariat, and I talk of the mugs.  It's the same thing.  They have their five-year plans and so have I.'

--The Third Man by Graham Greene

February  4,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

For the first time Rollo Martines looked back through the years without admiration, as he thought: He's never grown up.  Marlowe's devils wore squibs attached to their tails: evil was like Peter Pan - it carried with it the horrifying and horrible gift of eternal youth.

Martins said, 'Have you ever visited the children's hospital?  Have you seen any of your victims?'

Harry took a look at the toy landscape below and came away from the door.  'I never feel quite safe in these things,' he said.  He felt the back of the door with his hand, as though he were afraid that it might fly open and launch him into that iron-ribbed space.  'Victims?' he asked.  'Don't be melodramatic, Rollo.  Look down there,' he went on, pointing through the window at the people moving like black flies at the base of the Wheel.  'Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving - for eve?  If I said you can have twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stops, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money - without hesitation?  Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?  Free of income tax, old man.  Free of income tax.'  He gave his boyish conspiratorial smile.  'It's the only way to save nowadays.'

--The Third Man by Graham Greene

February  3,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then the racket began to get organised: the big men saw big money in it, and while the original thief got less for his spoils, he received instead a certain security.  If anything happened to im he would be looked after.  Human nature too has curious twisted reasons that the heart certainly knows nothing of.  It eased the conscience of many small men to feel that they were working for an employer: they were almost as respectable soon in their own eyes as wage-earners; they were one of a group, and if there was guilt, the leaders bore the guilt.  A racket works very like a totalitarian party. 

--The Third Man by Graham Greene

[N.B.:  Or, in the case of China, a totalitarian party works very like a racket.]

February  2,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

A buffet laden with coffee cups; an urn steaming; a woman's face shiny with exertion; two young men with the happy intelligent faces of sixth-formers; and, huddled in the background, like faces in a family album, a multitude of the old-fashioned, the dingy, the earnest and cheery features of constant readers. 

--The Third Man by Graham Greene

February  1,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Bible says that if a man does something bad to you, you ought to give him the chance to do more bad to you, like giving him your other cheek to slap.  That's in the Sermon on the Mount.  But I always thought that ought to be changed a little.  If you do pure good to a man that's harmed you that shames him too much.  No man is so bad that you ought to shame him that way.  Do you see?  You ought to do just a little bit of bad in return, so he can keep his self-respect.  Do you see what I mean?

--Heaven's My Destination by Thornton Wilder