Two Books

(Skip now or forever hold your peace).

I’ve been on a sort of English-major kick over the last few days. (I’m blaming this on my 50th college reunion a couple of weeks ago.) Number 1 was What Blest Genius, by Andrew McConnell Stott, about—as the subtitle puts it—“the jubilee that made Shakespeare”— the famous 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford, promoted and dominated by the actor/director/producer/empresario David Garrick—a near-disaster (many would say an actual disaster) that became a historic triumph, placing Shakespeare irrevocably at the center of British literature and turning his home town into the pilgrimage site it remains. The book is stupendously well researched and written. It’s also absolutely hilarious. (To a 20th-century sensibility with my particular character flaws, a great deal about 18th-century cultural history is hilarious, but Stott is really very funny.)

Number 2 was The World Broke In Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot. D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature [Whew], by Bill Goldstein. The year was 1922. NOT hilarious, and not remotely up my particular street, but wonderfully researched and beautifully constructed, interweaving these writers, their work, their personalities, their muses, their urgencies and neuroses, their relationships and interrelationships and jealousies. (Also, the author calls them all by the names their friends used: Virginia , of course, but then “Tom”, and “David”, and “Morgan”—a little unusual, but it works well in this context.) I’ve read all these people, of course. (English majors do.) But not for over half a century. I was reminded of a lot, learned a lot more, and it was excellent exercise for my lazy and increasingly flabby brain. I may even have a late-in-life go at Mrs. Dalloway. I couldn’t possibly understand it any less than I did in 1967.

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