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The Fool on the Hill…McCartney’s ode to differentness

In “The Fool on the Hill” McCartney was writing about the Maharishi. And perhaps himself.

“He never listens to them… He knows that they’re the fools” – Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney, Fool on the Hill (image courtesy beatlesbyday.com)

Paul McCartney, Fool on the Hill (image courtesy beatlesbyday.com)

Here’s the thing about Paul. As I have  written before on more than one occasion, McCartney rubs a lot of people the wrong way. He’s the most musically gifted of The Beatles (though George Harrison fans would likely argue) and in some ways the most creative force in the band (which will likely make John Lennon fans see red). He has even been accused of being an occasional threat to Ringo’s self-esteem (unjustified) which seems unconscionable, especially to the most lovable Beatle’s fans.

Here’s some truth that I doubt anyone would deny: Paul was and is the most driven Beatle, the one who wanted/needed to achieve. In a very real way, that has made him odd man out, even within The Beatles. Even within that close knit band of brothers, he felt his differentness. Continue reading

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The Beatles remind us: there’s a place…

“There’s a Place” anticipates the musical breakthrough that would come for the band with 1965’s Rubber Soul.

“There…is a place/Where I can go/When I feel low/When I feel blue…” – John Lennon, Paul McCartney

The Beatles in all the Edenic glory (image courtesy Time.com)

The Beatles in all the Edenic glory (image courtesy Time.com)

The English composer and musicologist Wilfrid Mellers, in his now classic scholarly study of the Beatles, Twilight of the Gods,  calls the early Beatles period, the period of screaming girls and “yeah, yeah, yeah,” their “Edenic” period. In his study, Mellers give particular attention to “There’s a Place,” the American “B-side” (there’s a quaint old term for you) to their iconic cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout.”

Given that the song wallows in obscurity in the Fabs’ canon, you must be wondering why Professor Mellers chose to give it serious scholarly attention and why I would choose it as the subject of of an essay. Other sources report that while John, Paul, George, and Ringo originally had high hopes for the song, that they themselves lost interest caused possibly by its having been a bit of a struggle for them to record. From being a song they expected to be their next #1, “There’s a Place” ended up as album filler and a B-side to a popular cover song.

As both Professor Mellers and I will argue, that’s a bad underestimation of what really is one of their finest early tunes. Continue reading

Music

Lady Day’s blues: Billie Holiday remembers…

Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away.

“I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, it ain’t music, it’s close order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music.” – Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Billie Holiday in full flight (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Lady Sings the Blues is, I suppose, one of the first autobiographies by a popular music star. This, the first book from the 2017 reading list, is an “as told to.” One of the things the ghost writer (to resurrect an old term), William Dufty, a reporter for the New York Post and a personal friend of Holiday, does beautifully is avoid much revision of Holiday’s words. As best as I have been able to discover, Dufty did a series of extended interviews with Holiday without the benefit of tape recording. That Lady Sings the Blues reads like a transcribed conversation with Lady Day is a tribute to Dufty’s careful rendering of Holiday’s words in her voice.

Dufty’s success in allowing Holiday to speak for herself is both charming and haunting, both illuminating and (unintentionally, perhaps) misleading. What one realizes as one reads this autobiography is that Holiday’s goal is to reveal herself without giving herself away. Let me put that more accurately: what Billie Holiday tries to do in Lady Sings the Blues is not give her self away even as she reveals herself. Continue reading

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John Lennon reaches Across the Universe…

Lennon once said that he likes the lyrics of “Across the Universe” perhaps the best of all the songs he wrote with The Beatles.

“When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there.” – George Harrison

John and Yoko (image courtesy Vanity Fair)

John and Yoko (image courtesy Vanity Fair)

Recent news reports have noted that the best selling book at Amazon is currently George Orwell’s classic novel of dystopian horror, 1984. Given our national circumstances, I suppose this could be seen as a positive, an effort on the part of at least some of the populace to educate themselves, even if a significant number of others in the populace (including me) wish that this sudden urge toward historical and cultural literacy had occurred before a certain November event.

Such, such is life, as the poet says. We seem only to want to listen to our poets and sages in times of distress.

There are some who, in the face of what certainly feels like imminent disaster, keep telling us that, to quote the mystic, “All shall be well.” It is difficult to the level of impossibility, however, to emulate the purity and power of a Julian of Norwich’s faith which is roughly the level of faith needed these days.  What are we of little faith to do?

Well, we can listen to “Across the Universe.”
Continue reading

books

Book Review: The Tell-Tale Treasure by Diane Sawyer

The Tell-Tale Treasure is a thriller for which one cannot use the standard descriptions such as fast-paced, edge of your seat, or thrill a minute. That is its most interesting appeal.

The Tell-Tale Treasure by Diane Sawyer (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

The Tell-Tale Treasure by Diane Sawyer (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

Diane Sawyer’s The Tell-Tale Treasure is a bit of an anomaly for a work of its genre.

This is a good thing.

The novel, written in 3rd person limited narration, shifts between characters throughout the work. Most readers will find the two most affecting of these narrations those that shift between Rosie Renard, an antiques dealer whose discoveries reopen a cold case concerning a talented classical musician who plays the erhu, a Chinese instrument similar to the violin, and Ivy Chen, a kidnapping victim who is a classical musician who plays that fascinating instrument…

What Rosie finds, and where that leads her and  the police and how all this works out to a successful (for the reader) conclusion is part of the charm of this novel. The pleasure for the reader in The Tell-Tale Treasure is not in its main plot. The pleasure for any astute reader of Sawyer’s novel is in the parts of the novel that offer readers the opportunity to know, really know, her characters, particularly Rosie and the musician mentioned above, the classical musician Ivy Chen. Continue reading

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Facing down the piggies with George Harrison…

George Harrison’s song “Piggies” from the White Album (written during another year of tumult, 1968) seems a perfect description of our present situation.

“When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game…. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.” – John Lennon

George Harrison at the time of The Beatles' White Album (image courtesy The Beatles Bible)

George Harrison at the time of The Beatles’ White Album (image courtesy The Beatles Bible)

We seem to be living in what the Chinese curse calls “interesting times.” 2016 was one of the most turbulent years in modern American political history, and the turmoil attendant to the presidential election felt exacerbated by the deaths of some of popular music’s most important figures. The list still seems breathtaking: inimitable talents David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael; Eagles founder Glen Frey; Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner; both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of ELP; songwriter extraordinaire Leonard Cohen; funk genius Maurice White…. I’ll stop here out of a kind of emotional fatigue. For one like me, it was at the least a trying year, one which left me feeling that I was losing my country to people possessed by greed and at the same time losing so many musicians whose work provided me with joy, solace, and inspiration. Yes, anyone and everyone have to die. Like many others, I suspect, I have questioned why it had to be these anyones and everyones. (My apologies to both you and ee cummings for the digression.)

Yet, as the French say, and rightly so, “La vie continue….”  Continue reading

Music

The 2017 reading list…

This year’s reading list will focus on music.

Nobelist Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, MN, circa 1963. (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Nobelist Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, MN, circa 1963. (image courtesy Wikimedia)

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” – Victor Hugo“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“If I  should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD WAS MUSIC” – Kurt Vonnegut

My deepest personal interest is in rock, as examples of my writing show again and again, but I like almost every genre of music – I have a deep, abiding love for classical, a gift from my grandmother, and I listen to lots of R&B, soul, and funk. I went through a period where I listened almost exclusively to jazz. I did the same thing with folk. And with blues. And with pop from the period characterized by composers and performers of what are commonly known as American standards (composers like Cole Porter,Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, performers like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day). I would like to say I have a deep, abiding love for country music, and I do find some of it powerful and moving, especially in its old school forms as practiced by old school artists such as Hank Williams (Sr.) and his successors such as Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. But I’d be lying if I said it reaches me the way other genres do. Old fogy that I am, I have never really embraced hip hop, though again certain old school artists impressed me such as Chuck D, Ice T, and Kool Moe Dee. (I suppose this means I represent for east side).

Anyway, to the reading… Continue reading

George Gordon, Lord Byron

Byron at Missolonghi: freedom trumps even poetry….

“Tyranny is far the worst of treasons.”

“They never fail who die in a great cause.” – George Gordon, Lord Byron

Statue of Byron at Missolonghi, Greece (image courtesy englishlanguageandhistory.com)

Statue of Byron at Missolonghi, Greece (image courtesy englishlanguageandhistory.com)

Today is Lord Byron’s 229th birthday.

Much of what is written about Byron focuses on his career as a poet and his life as a celebrity in Regency England. Part of the reason for that focus is that the life Byron led by both the standards of his own time and our own contemporary standards, scandalous.

His hedonistic lifestyle eventually made him such a social pariah in his homeland that he left England, as he claimed, forever. He probably did not think at the time that he would never return; he was only 28 years old. But in less than a decade he was dead, having achieved two things: he’d written his greatest poem, the brilliant epic satire Don Juan, and he’d joined the forces fighting for Greek independence from the Ottoman empire where he met his death from fever aided by incompetent doctors who likely gave him sepsis by bleeding him with non-sterile instruments.

The question, often debated, never resolved is, why did Byron risk – and lose – his life? Continue reading

S&R Honors John Lennon

S&R Honors John Lennon – a great writer, a great composer, a great man

Despite every attempt to marginalize and discredit him, John Lennon still matters and always will.

” I can’t wake you up. You can wake you up. I can’t cure you. You can cure you.” – John Lennon

John Lennon (image courtesy Short List)

John Lennon (image courtesy Short List)

Mark Twain once described his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as “A book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat.”

Twain’s quote sums up the complex personality of our newest Scrogue, John Lennon – a sound heart often in collision with a deformed conscience.

Lennon’s achievements as a songwriter and musician are indisputable. With his songwriting partner (and lifelong friend) Paul McCartney, he is arguably the premiere composer of the 20th century. As a solo artist he left a body of work that is alternately brilliant, haunting, and petulant. As a writer he is an experimenter of the first order, playing with language in ways that rival Joyce and Beckett.

Even as we enter an age of not just indifference but open hostility to artistic achievement, his genius is undeniable. “If there’s such a thing as a genius – I am one. And if there isn’t, I don’t care” he once said of himself.  Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtSunday

Should artists retain the rights to their work and images after they die? Jane Austen, zombies and undead mashups

What do we want from our art – novelty or originality?

“The… idea, then, is that every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards.” – Neil Postman

I think maybe it started with John Wayne.

The Duke and the King of Cool (image courtesy MovieMarket)

The Duke and the King of Cool (image courtesy MovieMarket)

That icon of of Real America® appeared in beer commercials  for Coors – even though he’d been dead about fifteen years. I won’t spoil your day by embedding one of these atrocities, but I’ll provide a link so you can enjoy the work of whatever weasels the Real American Beer Company® hired who foisted upon the American public this ad to sell their reconstituted dog urine.

Resurrecting the Silent Generation’s favorite cowboy wasn’t enough for our consumer culture, though. Ford Motor Company, looking to begin selling Real American Cars® again since they’d ceded that task to smarter, more forward thinking car makers from our Old Mortal Enemy®, Japan, decided to add some cool to their piece of junk – I mean innovative new car design by resurrecting a Baby Boomer icon (a guy so cool he got a name check in a Rolling Stones song), Steve McQueen. McQueen had been dead seventeen years.

And so we entered the era of the Undead cultural icon as marketing tool. Technology was harnessed to make us want to drink shitty beer because Hondo supposedly does or drive a shitty car because Frank Bullitt supposedly does.  Continue reading

books

Book Review: Goldhead by J. Haviland

Goldhead is the best kind of novel of its genre – it is a novel that provides a great ride even as it reiterates a great lesson.

“People start acting stupid when a lot of money is involved, even people you think you know.” – J. Haviland, Goldhead 

Goldhead by J. Haviland (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

Goldhead by J. Haviland (image courtesy Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)

J. Haviland’s novel Goldhead is a couple of things at once: it’s a caper story (the modern thread of the story follows a group of WWII vets hired in 1959 by a shady tycoon to find a lost Spanish galleon’s treasure); it’s a history lesson (Haviland creates a fictional explorer’s journal similar to that of Bartolomé de las Casas that tells a parallel story of  a 16th century conquistador’s expedition driven aground on the Florida coast by a hurricane that ends in disaster for all but the chronicler). Overarching both these narratives is the lust for gold – a fortune in gold from the Spanish colonial era that drives the behavior of the conquistador and his crew as well as that of the WWII vets and their crooked boss.

The novel is composed in alternating chapters and alternates between the Spanish expedition and the 1959 treasure seekers. Two things become obvious for the reader as this alternating plot structure unfolds: Haviland handles this plot structure beautifully, and avarice and greed separated by 430 years act in exactly the same way upon 16th and 20th psyches. Continue reading

Music

What is the true story about The Beatles’ rise to fame?

“The people who screwed you on your way to rock stardom will screw you on your way down – the people you screwed will try to get even.” – Jay Breeze, The Rock and Roll Handbook

Would be Beatles circa 1975

Would be Beatles circa 1975 – author at front right

I mentioned in my last essay that Larry Kane’s book When They Were Boys seemed problematic to me because Kane seemed to lack empathy with The Beatles even though he knew them rather intimately as a young reporter about the same age as the lads when he covered their 1964, ’65, and ’66 tours of America. It seems to me that Kane’s book is a possible example of what one person who commented on my piece thinks of when using the now bowdlerized term “fair and balanced“: in an effort to maintain “journalistic distance” and “objectivity,” reporters put themselves into the position of failing to admit (even embrace) their biases and accept their subjectivity. They thus set themselves up to make false equivalences that render what they mean to be “the accurate truth” neither accurate nor truthful.

That’s part of the problem with When They Were Boys. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

The true story of The Beatles: Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness…When They Were Boys by Larry Kane

“In Liverpool, no one ever really walks alone.” – Larry Kane

How much do stars owe to those who helped them become stars?

When They Were Boys by Larry Kane (image courtesy Goodreads)

When They Were Boys by Larry Kane (image courtesy Goodreads)

That is the central question in Larry Kane’s latest book on The Beatles, When They Were Boys. Kane has the credentials to ask such a question – he traveled as part of the press entourage attached to The Fabs during their entire 1964 and 1965 tours (and most of their 1966 tour). In that period he met many of the key players in the background of what is historically called Beatlemania: Brian Epstein, the record store executive who became their manager and paternal figure; Tony Barrow and Derek Taylor, two brilliant journalists and PR experts who helped the rising band become a media tsunami; Neil Aspinall, Mal Evans, and Tony Bramwell, local Liverpool mates who served as protectors, gofers, and confidants for the guys at the center of the maelstrom; and an array of former supporters, promoters, and club owners/managers ranging from Alan Williams (who died on the last day of the heinous 2016) to deposed Beatle Pete Best’s mother Mona to Sam Leach, a promoter who helped The Beatles gain better engagements and expand their reach beyond Liverpool to Manchester and other cities.

Each has a story to tell – and an ax to grind. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Chekhov: Lost in the Steppe

“In sheer impotency he returned to the house, greeting with bitter tears the new unknown life which was now beginning for him…. What will that life be?” – Anton Chekhov

Sometimes even a great writer runs into the wall.

Anton Chekhov (image courtesy Biography.com)

Anton Chekhov (image courtesy Biography.com)

As I mentioned in my last essay, I’d been working my way through the Everyman Library edition of Chekhov’s stories. The longest story (really a novella) is called “The Steppe” and is, perhaps, something of an autobiographical work. Unlike most Chekhov works, it is a rambling, discursive narrative, episodic, at times slightly incoherent, yet ultimately satisfying a much for its insight into the workings of a great writer’s mind as it is for the work itself.

I’ve explored this topic before with one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, and to discover this same struggle with a work in another writer whose canon status is inviolate is a pleasurable surprise. Not because I’m looking for feet of clay in a great writer, but because discovering a great writer working to overcome a writing difficulty. In Austen’s case it is that she tries to write her usual comedy of manners with a heroine more suited to a novel by one of the Bronte sisters. In Chekhov’s story, the problems – well, let’s get to them, shall we? Continue reading

CATEGORY: CATEGORY: ArtSunday

Reading Chekhov during the malaise…

In Checkhov’s writing and in modern America, feelings of frustration and helplessness abound.

Doctors and kind-hearted relatives only do their best to make humanity stupid, and the time will come when mediocrity will be considered genius, and humanity will perish. – Anton Chekhov, “The Black Monk” 

Anton Chekhov (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Anton Chekhov (image courtesy Wikimedia)

There’s no escaping the hum of troubling discourse pervading America these days. Mouthpieces for the current PEOTUS and Twitter aficionado Donald Trump rally around their man and argue vociferously for positions such as “facts don’t exist anymore” while members of his base rail at anyone who isn’t just like them as “racists.” Meanwhile, supporters of Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton vacillate between feverish (and likely unrealistic) hoping that a recount will miraculously create a reversal of fortunes and feverishly gathering and posting apocalyptic visions of the future of Trump’s America on social media.

Welcome to our America – land of Donald’s tweets and home of malaise.

As for me, I’m reading Chekhov’s short stories in in the Modern Library edition. Reading Chekhov feels right these days. His stories are populated by characters suffering their own malaise.   Continue reading

ArtSunday

The World’s 100 best short stories, sort of… volume 10: humor

Statistics prove that there are 25 bathtubs sold to every Bible… and 50 to every dictionary, and 380 to every encyclopedia… proving that while we may be neglecting the interior, we are looking after the exterior…. – Will Rogers

Will Rogers (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Will Rogers (image courtesy Wikimedia)

And now we reach the last volume in the collection The World’s 100 Best Short Stories. The subject/theme of this volume is humor. There are some well remembered writers such as P. G. Wodehouse, Will Rogers, George Ade, and, oddly enough, Emile Zola. There are some not so well remembered writers such as Emile Gaboriau, Charles Brackett, H. C. Witwer, and William Hazlett Upson. And there are some figures whose literary legacy is either based on a single work (Frank R. Stockton, mentioned previously) and Booth Tarkington, a writer extraordinarily popular in his time whose reputation is now all but eclipsed.

This is the weakest volume in the entire collection. There are reasons for this and we’ll explore them.

But first, a digression. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, sort of…volume 9: ghosts

Perhaps it’s all just a cock and a bull. But it’s a great one.

“There is neither ghost of earl nor ghost of countess in that room; there is no ghost there at all, but worse, far worse, something palpable….” “The worst of all things that haunt poor mortal men…and that is, in all its nakedness – Fear!” – H. G. Wells

Edward Everett Hale (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Edward Everett Hale (image courtesy Wikimedia)

This, the penultimate volume in The World’s 100 Best Short Stories set, takes as its subject matter/theme ghosts. As has been the case with other volumes in this series, the editor has chosen to interpret his choice broadly. Certainly in every story the characters find themselves haunted in some way, but this comes in most of the tales as a result of actions or circumstances rather than from any supernatural force.

The list of authors in this volume represents the most canonical or near-canonical group of any of the volumes thus far. Besides the above quoted Wells, Alexander Pushkin, Washington Irving, Sir Walter Scott, Prosper Merrimee, and John Galsworthy are all represented. There are some now forgotten (by contemporary audiences, anyway) writers, too, such as Johan Bojer, Stacy Aumonier, and James Hopper.  Then there’s the pictured Edward Everett Hale, known to generations of American school children for his story “The Man Without a Country” which is part of this collection.

Hale is the most fascinating of this latter group because he is known for a single work. Like Richard E. Connell (whose “The Most Dangerous Game” was discussed on my essay on volume 1) or Frank R. Stockton (known for “The Lady or the Tiger?” who will be discussed in the next essay of this series (though for  a different story), Hale’s literary legacy, though he was critically well regarded in his lifetime, hangs on that single story. This the topic for another essay, however, so let’s move on to the works in this collection. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The consolations of literature…

 

Life is a jest; and all things show it/ I though so once; but now I know it. – John Gay

It’s just words, folks, just words…. – Donald Trump

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

John Gay (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Friends ask me with some regularity why it is that I spend so much of my free time reading and contemplating and writing about literature. I forswore writing about politics several years ago. (I think it was about 2010 that I gave up trying to say anything useful on the topic. I may have let slip the odd veiled or not-so-veiled reference in the essays I write about literature, but my active days as a critic of this, that, or the other political activity or politician are over.)

Great days – or if the Chinese curse is more apt, interesting days – are upon us, however, and while I can and do find comfort at times in Lord Byron’s flippancy:

I would to heaven that I were so much clay,
As I am blood, bone, marrow, passion, feeling—
Because at least the past were passed away—
And for the future—(but I write this reeling,
Having got drunk exceedingly today,
So that I seem to stand upon the ceiling)
I say—the future is a serious matter—
And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water!

I find that as I contemplate the changes likely to be wrought in my country with the election of the author of one of the epigraphs that begin this essay, that I must find more – and healthier – consolations than the one the 6th Baron of Newstead Abbey proposes.

And so I turn to literature.  Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 8: Men

‘Shall I betray my best friend…? He is all that I have in the world. He saved me from the bear when its claws were already at my throat. We have suffered hunger and cold together. He covered me with his own garments while I was ill. I have brought him wood and water. I have watched over his sleep and led his enemies off the trail. Why should they think of me as a man who betrays his friend?’ – Selma Lagerlof

Selma Lagerlof (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Selma Lagerlof (image courtesy Wikimedia)

In my essay on volume 7 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, the volume devoted to stories about women, I bemoaned the fact that eight of the ten stories in that volume were written by men. In this, volume 8, a collection devoted to stories about men, only one of the ten stories is by a woman, the Swedish author and the first woman Nobelist, Selma Lagerlof. Lagerlof’s story is the best description of what male friendship is like in this volume.

Life is full of ironies, isn’t it?

Among the stories in this volume is one by another major literary figure, Fyodor Dostoevsky. That story, “The Thief,” is also an interesting depiction of male friendship, though its real focus is, as is often the case in the great Russian’s work, identity. And, as one might expect in a collection of stories about men, there are stories about sailors and cowboys and duels and war. So, as anyone who knows a little psychology and/or sociology would expect, these male centered stories are about men doing things together. You know, like fighting and shooting at each other….

It’s great to be a guy, for sure. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

The World’s 100 Best Short Stories, Sort of…Volume 7: Women

“It was almost a miracle, her kind of death, because out of all that jam of tonnage, she carried only one bruise, a faint one, near the brow.” – Fannie Hurst

“I love her like a madman, and I would kill myself this instant to rejoin her, if she were not to remain unknown to me for eternity, as she was unknown to me in this world.” – Alexandre Dumas

Fannie Hurst (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Fannie Hurst (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Volume 7 of The World’s 100 Best Short Stories is devoted to women. The ten stories in this collection seem to be efforts to find a theme that explains who women are. The various tales depict women as self-destructive, as self-sacrificing, as helpless victims, as brilliant tacticians. And yes, the collection also gives women the all too familiar Madonna/whore treatment.

At least one reason for this particular set of views of women may come from the authorship of the stories. Of these ten stories about women, only two are written by women.  One is by the redoubtable Fannie Hurst, one of the great “women’s authors”of the 20th century (she is the author of great pot boiler melodramas such as Imitation of Life and Back Street, both have which have been filmed multiple times with stars ranging from Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne to Lana Turner and Susan Hayward. The other is an author named Bernice Brown about whom there is scant information, though she seems to have written for magazines such as The Century and, if the example from this collection is an indication, is an interesting proto-feminist.

So, we have a volume of stories that mainly tell us how men saw women in the early 20th century with a couple of women authors trying to tell us how women saw themselves.  Continue reading