Friday 29 December 2023

My 30 favourite Shakespearean performances


In chronological order. 

Olivia Hussey as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1968) 
Leonard Whiting as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (1968)
Laurence Olivier as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice (1973) 
Jeremy Brett as Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost (1975) 
Marc Singer as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew (1976) 
Ian McKellen as Macbeth in Macbeth (1979) 
Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (1979)
Kate Nelligan as Isabella in Measure for Measure (1979) 
Bob Hoskins as Iago in Othello (1981) 
Michael Hordern as Lear in King Lear (1982) 
Anton Lesser as Edgar in King Lear (1982) 
Robert Lindsay as Edmund in King Lear (1983) 
Diana Rigg as Regan in King Lear (1983)
Cherie Lunghi as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (1984) 
Robert Lindsay as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (1984)
Richard Briers as Malvolio in Twelfth Night (1988) 
Kevin Kline as Hamlet in Hamlet (1990) 
Ian McKellen as Iago in Othello (1990) 
Imogen Stubbs as Desdemona in Othello (1990)
Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia in Twelfth Night (1990) 
Antony Sher as Leontes in The Winter’s Tale (1999) 
Ian Hughes as Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale (1999) 
Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus in Coriolanus (2001) 
Vanessa Redgrave as Volumnia in Coriolanus (2001)
Amy Acker as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (2012) 
Don Warrington as Lear in King Lear (2016) 
Miltos Yerolemou as the Fool in King Lear (2016)
Thomas Coombes as Oswald in King Lear (2016)
Mark Quartley as Ariel in The Tempest (2016) 
Kathryn Hunter as the Witches in Macbeth (2021) 

Wednesday 20 December 2023

2023 in reading and film-watching

1/ The greatest novel I’ve read this year is easily The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. Sometimes I look at the suffering around the world, and around me, and think about the “I’ll return the ticket” chapter. 

Not hard to see why some people think The Brothers Karamazov is the greatest novel ever written. 

2/ The greatest non-fiction book I’ve read this year is Gary Saul Morson’s Wonder Confronts Certainty.

The book was a birthday present from Tom of Wuthering Expectations and it was just my thing, exploring Russian literature and history of ideas—from the period leading up to the Revolution, to the Stalinist years—and the big questions.

Gary Saul Morson also wrote about intellectuals’ bloodlust and love of violence and embrace of revolution for the sake of revolution, which I didn’t expect to see playing out across the West just a few months later.  

3/ 2023 has been a strange year. Things fell apart. My life took a new turn.

Looking back at my reading and viewing in 2023, I realise that I didn’t read many novels, nor watched many films. Busy with work. Unable to concentrate. And all that. So I mostly binged on The Mentalist and watched Inside No.9 and read short stories.

The writer who has meant the most to me this year, on a personal level, is Chekhov. Tolstoy continues to be the prose writer I admire the most—Anna Karenina and War and Peace are part of my mental furniture—but Chekhov is the writer to whom I feel the closest. 

And yet here’s a paradox: Chekhov brings comfort in difficult times but might also make me pessimistic. Tolstoy and Shakespeare don’t have that effect. 

4/ I read Hamlet for the third time this year and finally something clicked, finally I grasped something that had previously eluded me. I love the play, and love the Kevin Kline production. 

5/ In 2023, I discovered Mishima Yukio, Alice Munro, Flannery O’Connor, and Isaac Babel.

Flannery O’Connor is one of the few short story writers about whom I do not think “not quite Chekhov but…”. I think that when reading Alice Munro or Isaac Babel or Balzac, but not when reading O’Connor. She’s her own thing. And she is a great writer. 

6/ For a long time, my idea of Russia was either Tolstoy’s Russia or Soviet Russia. Isaac Babel’s Russia, now Ukraine, is very different as he wrote about Jews, Jewish gangsters, and pogroms. 

I was reading Odessa Stories on my Prague work trip: it was strange, and horrible, to read Isaac Babel’s depiction of the 1905 pogrom, then see the memorial to Holocaust victims in Bohemia and Moravia, and then look at the internet and see the antisemitism taking hold of many people and institutions in the West today. 

Now reading Red Cavalry

I’d like to read more Jewish literature. 

Anyway, thanks for reading my blog, and thanks for all the interesting conversations here. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

Wednesday 15 November 2023

My 10 favourite episodes of Inside No.9

I have just finished watching Inside No.9—it is brilliant! It’s a British black comedy series, written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, and each episode is a self-contained story, almost all starring one of them or both (usually both).

Ingenuous plots, clever twists, good dialogue, good attention to detail. Also, both Shearsmith and Pemberton have a great range. 

Here are my 10 favourite episodes (in chronological order): 

  • A Quiet Night In: two hapless burglars trying to steal a (postmodernist?) painting whilst the couple in the house argue; almost entirely without dialogue. 
  • The Understudy: about a production of Macbeth, and inspired by Macbeth
  • The 12 Days of Christine: 12 days from 12 years of Christine’s life; great drama and emotion packed into just half an hour. 
  • The Billsimple premise (four men arguing over a bill), simple location (for most of the episode, around a table); the entire plot driven by characters and dialogue. 
  • The Riddle of the Sphinx: one of the most ingenuous episodes in the series; revolving around a cryptic crossword. 
  • Zanzibar: a Shakespeare mash-up; the whole dialogue in iambic pentameter. 
  • Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room: double-act Cheese and Crackers reuniting after 30 years to perform in front of an audience. 
  • Once Removed: a removal man arriving to help a woman move house, leading to bizarre circumstances that unfold through reverse chronology; one of the cleverest episodes. 
  • Misdirection: a battle of wits between magicians, years after a stolen trick. 
  • Wuthering Heist: a heist film in the style of Commedia dell’arte and inspired by Reservoir Dogs
  • The Bones of St Nicholas: a professor camping in a church that is said to be haunted and contain the bones of St Nicholas. 

All right, I know, that’s actually 11. But you can’t make me get rid of one. 

One of my favourite jokes from Inside No.9

- Jesus! What a blue-cock!

- What’s a blue-cock?

- A tight-fisted wanker.

Saturday 11 November 2023

On Hannah Arendt and antisemitism

I always wanted to read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism—now seemed like the perfect time. Very interesting book, at least so far. 

I’m just going to jot down some thoughts. 

1/ “This situation was an important factor in the early rise and continuous growth of antisemitism in the nineteenth century. Which group of people would turn antisemitic in a given country at a given historical moment depended exclusively upon general circumstances which made them ready for a violent antagonism to their government. But the remarkable similarity of arguments and images which time and again were spontaneously reproduced have an intimate relationship with the truth they distort. We find the Jews always represented as an international trade organization, a world-wide family concern with identical interests everywhere, a secret force behind the throne which degrades all visible governments into mere facade, or into marionettes whose strings are manipulated from behind the scenes. Because of their close relationship to state sources of power, the Jews were invariably identified with power, and because of their aloofness from society and concentration upon the closed circle of the family, they were invariably suspected of working for the destruction of all social structures.” (P.1, ch.2)

Still true today, this is something I see on both the left and the right. 

2/ “It is an obvious, if frequently forgotten, rule that anti-Jewish feeling acquires political relevance only when it can combine with a major political issue, or when Jewish group interests come into open conflict with those of a major class in society.” (ibid.)

Over the past few years, I have seen anti-Jewish sentiments expressed among the anti-immigrant crowd, the anti-woke crowd, the “Covid is a hoax” crowd, and other groups, but the biggest political issue adopted by antisemites at the moment is the Palestinian cause. To clarify, I don’t mean that every single pro-Palestinian person hates Jews, or wants to destroy the state of Israel, but I would argue that lots of antisemites hide behind the Palestinian cause and mask their Jew hatred by replacing the word “Jews” with “Zionists” when saying something antisemitic. 

Regarding the pro-Palestinian (or more accurately, anti-Israeli) protests in the West and especially in London, I have no doubt that many people genuinely care about the Palestinians and want the suffering in Gaza to end, but it’s a fact that many others in the marches hate Jews, support Hamas, and want Israel to be destroyed “from the river to the sea”. You can’t deny it. You too have seen the signs. You too have heard the chants. You too have seen people openly supporting Hamas. 

3/ “Many of these bankers were Jews and, even more important, the general figure of the banker bore definite Jewish traits for historical reasons. Thus the leftist movement of the lower middle class and the entire propaganda against banking capital turned more or less antisemitic, a development of little importance in industrial Germany but of great significance in France and, to a lesser extent, in Austria.” (ibid.) 

Interestingly, Hannah Arendt points out that Karl Marx, himself a Jew, was anti-Jewish. 

4/ “Friedrich Engels once remarked that the protagonists of the antisemitic movement of his time were noblemen, and its chorus the howling mob of the petty bourgeoisie. This is true not only for Germany, but also for Austria's Christian Socialism and France's Anti-Dreyfusards. In all these cases, the aristocracy, in a desperate last struggle, tried to ally itself with the conservative forces of the churches—the Catholic Church in Austria and France, the Protestant Church in Germany—under the pretext of fighting liberalism with the weapons of Christianity.” (ibid.) 

As I have said earlier, there are antisemites across the political spectrum.

The thing I find fascinating is that there are elements of antisemitism in both of the two worst ideologies of the 20th century: Nazism and communism. There are also such elements in some of the worst ideologies at the moment. 

5/ “… the German Liberal Party, under the leadership of Schoenerer, was from the beginning a lower middle-class party without connections or restraints from the side of the nobility, and with a decidedly left-wing outlook.

It never achieved a real mass basis, but it was remarkably successful in the universities during the eighties where it organized the first closely knit students' organization on the basis of open antisemitism. Schoenerer's antisemitism, at first almost exclusively directed against the Rothschilds, won him the sympathies of the labor movement, which regarded him as a true radical gone astray. His main advantage was that he could base his antisemitic propaganda on demonstrable facts: as a member of the Austrian Reichsrat he had fought for nationalization of the Austrian railroads, the major part of which had been in the hands of the Rothschilds since 1836 due to a state license which expired in 1886. Schoenerer succeeded in gathering 40,000 signatures against its renewal, and in placing the Jewish question in the limelight of public interest. The close connection between the Rothschilds and the financial interests of the monarchy became very obvious when the government tried to extend the license under conditions which were patently to the disadvantage of the state as well as the public.” (ibid.) 

That reminds me, I should pick up a book about the Rothschilds and the conspiracy theory. 

6/ “It is well known that the belief in a Jewish conspiracy that was kept together by a secret society had the greatest propaganda value for antisemitic publicity, and by far outran all traditional European superstitions about ritual murder and well-poisoning.” (P.1, ch.3)

“Jews run Hollywood”, “Jews own the media”, “Jews control the world”, etc.—it is depressing to read Hannah Arendt’s book from 1951 and recognise many things discussed. Are Jews over-represented in certain fields? Yes, it’s undeniable. But if Jews were controlling the media and controlling the world, they’re doing a pretty bad job—the media, the UN, the WHO… have for a long time been strongly biased against Israel. 

7/ “Not the Dreyfus case with its trials but the Dreyfus Affair in its entirety offers a foregleam of the twentieth century. As Bernanos pointed out in 1931 "The Dreyfus affair already belongs to that tragic era which certainly was not ended by the last war. The affair reveals the same inhuman character, preserving amid the welter of unbridled passions and the flames of hate an inconceivably cold and callous heart." Certainly it was not in France that the true sequel to the affair was to be found, but the reason why France fell an easy prey to Nazi aggression is not far to seek.” (P.1, ch.4) 

Is this the case? I have no idea. But the chapter about the Dreyfus affair is interesting.

Emile Zola was indeed a true intellectual, who stood up for the truth and for justice, putting himself at risk. In contrast, many members of the intelligentsia now pretend to stand up for justice and to side with the oppressed, but they sympathise with terrorists, condone atrocities, and unthinkingly repeat slogans and received opinions.

But then that’s nothing new, I guess. It’s only a few months ago when I read Wonder Confronts Certainty, in which Gary Saul Morson wrote about the educated class’s bloodlust and love of violence, and their embracing of revolution for the sake of revolution. 

8/ “It was against the rich and the clergy, not for the republic, not for justice and freedom that the workers finally took to the streets.” (ibid.) 

That’s a good observation, speaking as someone from a communist country. 

9/ “While the mob actually stormed Jewish shops and assailed Jews in the streets, the language of high society made real, passionate violence look like harmless child's play.” (ibid.) 

And that is happening again now. On the streets of London and other Western cities, there have been people chanting genocidal phrases and calling for jihad and calling for intifada; in the West, there have been intimidations of and attacks on Jews, or Jewish businesses; but some people still pretend or perhaps convince themselves that antisemitism is overblown, that there’s no cause for concern, that the chants are all harmless.

I can’t help fearing that we’re reliving the 20th century. 

10/ “The case of the unfortunate Captain Dreyfus had shown the world that in every Jewish nobleman and multimillionaire there still remained something of the old-time pariah, who has no country, for whom human rights do not exist, and whom society would gladly exclude from its privileges. No one, however, found it more difficult to grasp this fact than the emancipated Jews themselves.” (ibid.) 

The shocking responses to the 10/7 massacre, which I never would have expected—remember that the first protests were immediately after the massacre and before Israel’s retaliation—truly opened my eyes. 

Wednesday 1 November 2023

100 latest films I've watched

From July 2023 to November 2023

In bold: films and TV episodes I think are good. 

1/ The Mentalist: Strawberries and Cream - Parts 1 and 2 (2011) 

2/ The Mentalist: Blood Money (2010) 

3/ The Mentalist: Red All Over (2010) 

4/ The Mentalist: 18-5-4 (2010) 

5/ The Mentalist: Scarlet Ribbons (2011) 

6/ The Mentalist: Little Red Book (2011) 

7/ The Mentalist: Pretty Red Balloon (2011) 

8/ The Mentalist: Ring Around the Rosie (2011) 

9/ Barbie (2023) 

10/ The Mentalist: Blood and Sand (2011) 

11/ The Mentalist: Where in the World is Carmine O'Brien? (2011)

12/ The Mentalist: Blinking Red Light (2011) 

13/ The Mentalist: Pink Tops (2011) 

14/ The Mentalist: The Redshirt (2011) 

15/ The Mentalist: Always Bet on Red (2012) 

16/ The Mentalist: My Bloody Valentine (2012) 

17/ The Mentalist: Red Is the New Black (2012) 

18/ The Mentalist: At First Blush (2012) 

19/ The Mentalist: War of the Roses (2012) 

20/ The Mentalist: His Thoughts Were Red Thoughts (2012) 

21/ The Mentalist: Cheap Burgundy (2012) 

22/ The Mentalist: Ruddy Cheeks (2012) 

23/ The Mentalist: Pink Champagne on Ice (2012) 

24/ The Mentalist: Something Rotten in Redmund (2012) 

25/ The Mentalist: Ruby Slippers (2012) 

26/ The Mentalist: So Long, and Thanks for All the Red Snapper (2012)

27/ The Mentalist: The Crimson Hat (2012) 

28/ The Mentalist: The Red Glass Bead (2012) 

29/ The Mentalist: Devil's Cherry (2012) 

30/ The Mentalist: Not One Red Scent (2012) 

31/ The Mentalist: Blood Feud (2012) 

32/ The Mentalist: Cherry Picked (2012) 

33/ The Mentalist: If It Bleeds, It Leads (2012) 

34/ The Mentalist: Red Sails in the Sunset (2012) 

35/ The Mentalist: Black Cherry (2012) 

36/ The Mentalist: Panama Red (2012) 

37/ The Mentalist: Days of Wine and Roses (2012) 

38/ The Mentalist: Little Red Corvette (2013) 

39/ Indiscreet (1958) 

40/ The Mentalist: The Red Barn (2013)  

41/ The Mentalist: Red in Tooth and Claw (2013) 

42/ The Mentalist: Red Lacquer Nail Polish (2013) 

43/ Ida (2013) 

44/ The Mentalist: There Will Be Blood (2013) 

45/ The Mentalist: Red, White, and Blue (2013) 

46/ The Mentalist: Behind the Red Curtain (2013) 

47/ The Mentalist: Red Letter Day (2013) 

48/ The Mentalist: Red Velvet Cupcakes (2013) 

49/ The Mentalist: Red and Itchy (2013) 

50/ The Mentalist: Red John's Rules (2013) 

51/ The Mentalist: The Desert Rose (2013) 

52/ The Mentalist: Black-Winged Redbird (2013)

53/ The Mentalist: Wedding in Red (2013) 

54/ The Mentalist: Red Listed (2013) 

55/ The Mentalist: The Red Tattoo (2013) 

56/ The Mentalist: Fire and Brimstone (2013) 

57/ The Mentalist: The Great Red Dragon (2013) 

58/ The Mentalist: Red John (2013) 

59/ The Mentalist: My Blue Heaven (2013) 

60/ The Mentalist: Green Thumb (2013) 

61/ The Mentalist: White Lies (2014) 

62/ The Mentalist: Golden Hammer (2014)

63/ The Mentalist: Black Helicopters (2014) 

64/ The Mentalist: Grey Water (2014) 

65/ The Mentalist: White as the Driven Snow (2014) 

66/ The Mentalist: Violets (2014) 

67/ The Mentalist: Silver Wings of Time (2014) 

68/ The Mentalist: Forest Green (2014) 

69/ The Mentalist: Brown Eyed Girls (2014) 

70/ The Mentalist: Il Tavolo Bianco (2014) 

71/ The Mentalist: Black Hearts (2014) 

72/ The Mentalist: Blue Bird (2014) 

73/ The Mentalist: Nothing But Blue Skies (2014) 

74/  The Mentalist: The Greybar Hotel (2014) 

75/ The Mentalist: Orange Blossom Ice Cream (2014) 

76/ The Mentalist: Black Market (2014) 

77/ The Mentalist: The Silver Briefcase (2014) 

78/ The Mentalist: Green Light (2015) 

79/ The Mentalist: Little Yellow House (2015)  

80/ The Mentalist: The Whites of His Eyes (2015) 

81/ The Mentalist: Copper Bullet (2015) 

82/ The Mentalist: Nothing Gold Can Stay (2015) 

83/ The Mentalist: Byzantium (2015) 

84/ The Mentalist: Brown Shag Carpet / White Orchids (2015) 

85/ The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) 

86/ The French Dispatch (2021)

87/ Panorama: Downfall of the Crypto King (2023) - extended version 

88/ Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) 

89/ Inside No.9: Zanzibar (2018) 

90/ Inside No.9: Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room (2018) 

91/ Killers of the Flower Moon (2023)

92/ Inside No.9: Sardines (2014)

93/ Inside No.9: A Quiet Night In (2014) 

94/ Inside No.9: Tom & Gerri (2014) 

95/ Inside No.9: Last Gasp (2014) 

96/ Inside No.9: The Understudy (2014) 

97/ Inside No.9: The Harrowing (2014) 

98/ Inside No.9: La Couchette (2015) 

99/ Inside No.9: The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge (2015) 

100/ Inside No.9: Cold Comfort (2015) 

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Marriages of unequal minds in Shakespeare

Have you ever noticed how often women in Shakespeare’s plays go for men unworthy of them? 

In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Julia and Silvia are both better than Valentine and Proteus. 

In Love’s Labour’s Lost, all three women are wittier and wiser than the men. 

In The Merchant of Venice, Portia is cleverer and more resourceful than Bassanio, and clearly would be the one wearing the pants in the relationship.

In As You Like It, one thinks that Orlando is a nice lad but wonders what Rosalind can possibly see in him. 

Similar with Helena and Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well (though I think both are utterly unpleasant). 

In Measure for Measure, I don’t know why Marianna wants Angelo after he has thrown her away. 

In Twelfth Night, Viola, intelligent in other ways but foolish in love, willingly a thousand deaths would die for a narcissist such as Orsino.

In Othello, Desdemona is the sweetest innocent, too good for Othello (I have always clashed with A. C. Bradley’s view of him as a noble man). 

Same with Hero and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing

Same with Imogen and Posthumus Leonatus in Cymbeline

Same with Hermione and Leontes in The Winter’s Tale.

Love is blind indeed.

So which are the equal and balanced couples in Shakespeare?

I guess we can say Romeo and Juliet, and Antony and Cleopatra—though in both cases, their love is destructive. I would also say the Macbeths—they’re a happy, loving couple—she does taunt him but I have always thought that people exaggerate her dominance, her control over him—Macbeth already has black and deep desires before she speaks; Macbeth is the one committing the murder, she can’t; Macbeth is the one killing more people, she can’t stop him. 

Probably the only great match with a happy ending is Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing

Why does Shakespeare so often depict women going for men unworthy of them? 

Wednesday 4 October 2023

A Bardolator’s notes on living in London

1/ As other sufferers would understand, once you have caught the Shakespeare bug, it’s incurable—you read the plays and listen to audio recordings and watch productions and watch film adaptations and read centuries of criticism—and if you happen to live in London, you look for the places associated with Shakespeare.

In May, I went on a Shakespeare tour with Declan McHugh, who specialises in Shakespeare and serial killers.

Last Sunday, I went on another Shakespeare tour with Helen Palmer of Elan Walks.

(Helen said to me “So you’re the Bardolator in the group.” How did she know? you ask. I’m a show-off, that’s how). 

2/ On 25/9, I was at the Swan at the Globe with Himadri of Argumentative Old Git blog, having won two tickets, for the event celebrating 400 years of First Folio and the new edition by Folio Society.

Three gorgeous volumes, £1000. Limited edition. 

I can’t afford them—I’m just a poor girl—but hey, I was one of the first people outside Folio Society to have seen and felt these beautiful books. 

3/ It’s insane to me that souvenir shops in Amsterdam are filled with Van Gogh and those in Vienna are filled with Mozart and Gustav Klimt, but souvenir shops in London just sell Harry Potter, the royal family, and London symbols such as the red bus. No Shakespeare. No Dickens. Rarely Sherlock Holmes. Just contemporary pop culture nonsense.

4/ I’m currently reading and enjoying Neil MacGregor’s Shakespeare’s Restless World: An Unexpected History in Twenty Objects

It’s an interesting concept.

One can enjoy Shakespeare books anywhere, but it feels a bit more personal when you recognise place names (ah, Shoreditch!) or you can easily pop to Bankside and walk around the area where he worked.

(Yep, I’m rubbing it in). 

5/ There is a Shakespeare Museum opening in London next year. I am excited but worried. 

6/ If you’re heartbroken (or planning to be), I recommend London. Lots of attractions to see, things to do, places to visit.

Since moving to London, I have seen only two copies of the First Folio: the one at British Library and the one at the Globe. 

This year is the 400th anniversary of the First Folio so, you’ve guessed it, I’m gonna go hunt them:

Monday 2 October 2023

Cleopatra and Shakespeare’s characters’ ability to surprise

If asked to pick the greatest line in Shakespeare, I would go with “I was adored once too.” Virginia Woolf also thinks that when Sir Andrew says that line in Twelfth Night, “we feel that we hold him in the hollow of our hands; a novelist would have taken three volumes to bring us to that pitch of intimacy.”

Just five words completely change our perception of Sir Andrew. 

Also in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare does something brilliant with Malvolio: Malvolio first comes across as self-satisfied, holier-than-thou, and insufferable, so we laugh along when other characters play a prank on him, but then the prank goes too far and turns into something much darker and crueller, and as we see Malvolio abused and beaten and humiliated, we not only feel sorry for him but also feel complicit in the humiliation of the pitiful man.

It is excellent, and Jane Austen later does something similar with Miss Bates in Emma.

When people talk about Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature and powers of characterisation, they understandably talk about Iago and Othello, together with Hamlet, Macbeth, Rosalind…, but the most surprising character in Othello is Emilia. For a large part of the play, Emilia comes across as ordinary and earthy, contrasting with the saintliness and naïve childlikeness of Desdemona, but in the final scene, she is transfigured. Iago has seen through everything and manipulated everyone, but Emilia’s love and self-sacrifice and fearlessness is the one thing he has not anticipated. 

“EMILIA […] Thou hast not half that power to do me harm

As I have to be hurt…” 

(Act 5 scene 2) 

The intensity! The rage! It is Emilia who defends Desdemona’s honour, who exposes Othello, who brings down Iago. It is a powerful scene—she is transfigured. 

But there’s nothing like the surprise of Cleopatra, the infinite variety of Cleopatra. A. C. Bradley thinks that in Shakespeare, there are four characters that are inexhaustible: Hamlet, Falstaff, Iago, and Cleopatra.

For a large part of Antony and Cleopatra, she is depicted as lascivious and tempestuous and dramatic and manipulative and shallow and an irresponsible ruler, and yet in the final Act, she is transformed. In the large part of the play, Antony and Cleopatra, both irresponsible rulers and in some ways very ordinary people, are both turned into quasi-mythological beings. It’s largely Cleopatra who mythologises Antony and herself. 

“CLEOPATRA Think you there was or might be such a man 

As this I dreamt of? 

DOLABELLA Gentle madam, no. 

CLEOPATRA You lie, up to the hearing of the gods, 

But if there be nor ever were one such, 

It’s past the size of dreaming; nature wants stuff 

To vie strange forms with fancy, yet t’ imagine

As Antony were nature’s piece ’gainst fancy, 

Condemning shadows quite.” 

(Act 5 scene 2) 

Her death is one of the most striking, unforgettable deaths in Shakespeare (and in literature in general). But unlike the death of Desdemona or Cordelia, it doesn’t feel tragic—instead, there’s a strange beauty and nobility in Cleopatra’s death. 

“CLEOPATRA Give me my robe, put on my crown, I have 

Immortal longings in me. Now no more 

The juice of Egypt’s grape shall moist this lip,

Yare, yare, good Iras; methinks I hear 

Antony call; I see him rouse himself

To praise my noble act. I hear him mock

The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men

To excuse their after wrath. Husband, I come:

Now to that name my courage prove my title! 

I am fire, and air; my other elements

I give to baser life…” 


How does a pleasure-seeking, manipulative, and essentially shallow woman like Cleopatra transform into such a quasi-mythological being in the last Act of the play? How does Shakespeare do it? I don’t know—I’ve reread the play recently and still don’t know. It’s miraculous. 

Thursday 21 September 2023

More and more puzzled by Measure for Measure

1/ I still think the Duke goes around pulling all the strings because he wants to test everyone in Vienna. Some readers and viewers of the play complain that the final two acts drag on for too long when the Duke could easily remove his disguise and set everything right, but I don’t think he’s just interested in justice, in setting everything right—I think he wants to experiment, to test everyone to their very limit.

The question is, of course, why? Perhaps he’s bored, never having had much interest in governing. Perhaps he wants to study human nature. Perhaps he wants to play God. Perhaps he turns everything upside down and begins anew when he returns to power, having given the citizens of Vienna a taste of tyranny. Perhaps he wants to demonstrate to everyone, especially those in power, the danger of bias and the impossibility of establishing the truth when we’re in a “he said, she said” situation. 

2/ Barnardine is the minor, seemingly inconsequential character in Shakespeare that interests me the most, because he’s the only character in Measure for Measure that the Duke cannot control. 

“BARNADINE […] I will not consent to die this day, it’s certain.” 

(Act 4 scene 3) 

For all his game of playing God and manipulating everything, the Duke also cannot control Lucio’s mouth, but in the final scene, Lucio inadvertently plays into the Duke’s game when he slanders Friar Lodowick (the Duke’s disguise) and thus puts Escalus to the test as a judge (which he fails, coloured by his misjudgement about Angelo). And later, the Duke can punish Lucio by forcing him to marry a prostitute.

Barnardine on the contrary cannot be controlled, cannot be swayed. He refuses to get pulled into the Duke’s elaborate plot. He would prefer not to. 

3/ When I reread Hamlet or King Lear, I saw more layers of meaning and understood them a bit better.

But when I reread Measure for Measure recently, it puzzled me even more—I’m still in the dark—it’s a baffling play. 

For example, people tell me that Measure for Measure is about mercy. But do you notice the absurdity of Isabella’s call for mercy for Angelo? 

“ISABELLA […] My brother had but justice, 

In that he did the thing for which he died. 

For Angelo, 

His act did not o’ertake his bad intent, 

And must be buried but as an intent 

That perished by the way. Thoughts are no subjects, 

Intents but merely thoughts.” 

(Act 5 scene 1)

How is it justice that Claudio has to die for “fornication”? How is it just intent when Angelo forces Isabella to trade her virginity for her brother’s life—which doesn’t become “action” only because the Duke intervenes and gets Marianna to change place with Isabella—and then deceitfully lets Claudio be executed anyway? What kind of mercy is this? 

We can imagine what Shakespeare would have thought about Claudio’s “crime”—Anne Hathaway was pregnant on their wedding day. 

4/ The Duke is, in his way, also a tyrant. 

Look at the resolution.

He makes Angelo marry Marianna: Angelo doesn’t want her, and she ends up with someone who doesn’t care for her.

He makes Lucio marry the prostitute who has a child with him: Lucio doesn’t want her, how do we know if she wants him? 

He “proposes” to Isabella: she never says yes, and we all know she wants to become a nun.

Isn’t that tyrannical? 

This is not me imposing a modern perspective on the play—Shakespeare depicted over and over again forced marriages, in Romeo and Juliet, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in The Merry Wives of Windsor—we can deduce what he must have thought about them. 

Friday 15 September 2023

Chekhov and shame

I prefer Chekhov’s later and longer stories, naturally. But many of his earlier stories, though just sketches, are very good.

In Volume 8 of Constance Garnett’s Chekhov, shame is the theme in most of the stories: Chekhov depicts an encounter, a confrontation, or a confession, and pinpoints a moment of shame, of the realisation in some character that they have wasted their lives or been unkind to others. And it’s very moving. 

For example, in “The Chorus Girl”, a chorus girl named Pasha is with a man when his wife suddenly appears and asks about him: 

“Pasha felt that on this lady in black with the angry eyes and white slender fingers she produced the impression of something horrid and unseemly, and she felt ashamed of her chubby red cheeks, the pock-mark on her nose, and the fringe on her forehead, which never could be combed back. And it seemed to her that if she had been thin, and had had no powder on her face and no fringe on her forehead, then she could have disguised the fact that she was not “respectable,” and she would not have felt so frightened and ashamed to stand facing this unknown, mysterious lady.”

It is similar to a moment in “A Gentleman Friend”: 

“The staircase impressed her as luxurious, and magnificent, but of all its splendours what caught her eye most was an immense looking-glass, in which she saw a ragged figure without a fashionable jacket, without a big hat, and without bronze shoes. And it seemed strange to Vanda that, now that she was humbly dressed and looked like a laundress or sewing girl, she felt ashamed, and no trace of her usual boldness and sauciness remained, and in her own mind she no longer thought of herself as Vanda, but as the Nastasya Kanavkin she used to be in the old days. . . .” 

To go back to “The Chorus Girl”, the wife screams at her, curses her, begs her whilst the husband is hiding and hearing everything.  

“Pasha shrieked with horror and waved her hands. She felt that this pale, beautiful lady who expressed herself so grandly, as though she were on the stage, really might go down on her knees to her, simply from pride, from grandeur, to exalt herself and humiliate the chorus girl.” 

A large part of the story is about the chorus girl’s shame and humiliation—because of it, she does an impulsive act that she later regrets—but then the wife leaves and the man appears, and now what we see is his shame. 

“At a Country House” is also a sketch, but different from “The Chorus Girl”, shame is not a feeling that runs through the entire story but a moment of sudden realisation: 

“Rashevitch was fearfully confused. Dumbfoundered, as though he had been caught in the act of a crime, he gazed helplessly at Meier, and did not know what to say. Genya and Iraida flushed crimson, and bent over their music; they were ashamed of their tactless father. A minute passed in silence, and there was a feeling of unbearable discomfort…” 

That moment changes the colour, the tone of the rest of the story. 

“When he reached his own room, Rashevitch sat down on his bed and began to undress. He felt oppressed, and he was still haunted by the same feeling as though he had eaten soap. He was ashamed. As he undressed he looked at his long, sinewy, elderly legs, and remembered that in the district they called him the “toad,” and after every long conversation he always felt ashamed.” 

It also changes the way we perceive the character. Rashevitch is the kind of man Chekhov might not have liked in real life, for he speaks of blue blood and disparages the working class, but Chekhov humanises him—through shame—and makes us feel sorry for him. 

The subject of shame is even more developed, and better handled, in “Rothschild’s Fiddle”. Look at the moment when Yakov notices the look of joy on his dying wife’s face: 

“Looking at the old woman, Yakov for some reason reflected that he had not once in his life been affectionate to her, had had no feeling for her, had never once thought to buy her a kerchief, or to bring her home some dainty from a wedding, but had done nothing but shout at her, scold her for his losses, shake his fists at her; it is true he had never actually beaten her, but he had frightened her, and at such times she had always been numb with terror. Why, he had forbidden her to drink tea because they spent too much without that, and she drank only hot water. And he understood why she had such a strange, joyful face now, and he was overcome with dread.” 

Chekhov doesn’t use the word, but it’s a moment of immense shame. The feeling becomes stronger after the funeral: 

“He wondered how it had happened that for the last forty or fifty years of his life he had never once been to the river, or if he had been by it he had not paid attention to it. […] But nothing of this had happened, even in his dreams; life had passed uselessly without any pleasure, had been wasted for nothing, not even a pinch of snuff; there was nothing left in front, and if one looked back—there was nothing there but losses, and such terrible ones, it made one cold all over. […] Why do people always do what isn’t needful? Why had Yakov all his life scolded, bellowed, shaken his fists, ill-treated his wife, and, one might ask, what necessity was there for him to frighten and insult the Jew that day? Why did people in general hinder each other from living? What losses were due to it! what terrible losses! If it were not for hatred and malice people would get immense benefit from one another.”

Now connected with shame is the subject of waste—something that occupies Chekhov throughout his career, in both short stories and plays—the idea that we waste our lives and hinder each other from living. 

I shall end my blog post with a quote from Edmund White, as quoted on Anecdotal Evidence blog

“But surely the stories of Chekhov or the paintings of de Chirico move us not only because they are so well done, but because in each case the artist has arranged exactly the right things in the right order. The choice of subject matter has been at least half of the achievement. Of course, if the rendering were less accomplished, its inaccuracies would distract us or stand between us and what was going on; but the aptness of the rendering alone could never explain the mysterious hold those words in the dark have over us.”

Wednesday 30 August 2023

On Turgenev’s Virgin Soil

Virgin Soil is one of Turgenev’s lesser-known works. Not hard to see why. It is, as Tom of Wuthering Expectations has put it, formless.  

But if you’re interested in 19th century Russian society and politics, like I am, especially now that I have just read Gary Saul Morson’s Wonder Confronts Certainty, it is an interesting novel. It is probably Turgenev’s most political novel, or the novel where his stance is most clear: the revolutionaries are not psychopaths but naïve idealists who want to “serve the people” but know nothing about “the people”; the ideal is someone like Solomin, who introduces gradual changes and makes actual positive impact on people’s lives. If only the likes of Solomin had triumphed instead of the Bolsheviks! 

There are also some good bits in Virgin Soil. My favourite part is the chapter about the old couple, Fomushka and Fimushka—it does nothing to advance the plot, it even feels incongruous, but it’s striking and full of life. 

The characterisation of Nezhdanov and the depiction of his doubt and struggle are good. He is the most, or perhaps the only, fully developed character in the novel. Like Tolstoy always writes about the Man Who Searches for Meaning, Chekhov always writes about the Man Who Wastes His Life, Dostoyevsky always writes about the Spiteful Man, Turgenev always writes about the Superfluous Man.

Tom wrote

“The generation of Nihilists replaces the Superfluous Men, only to discover that they themselves were superfluous, and now the more violent, conspiratorial, anarchistic Populists elbow out the nihilists, finding, to their despair, that they are entirely superfluous.” 

Nezhdanov is another Superfluous Man. But it doesn’t feel boring—the doubt, the struggle, the gulf he feels between himself and the peasants, the feeling that “it’s difficult for an aesthete to engage with real life”, the despair and self-loathing—all that is well depicted.

There are some good moments, some good scenes throughout the book. The confrontation between Valentina Sipyagina and Marianna, for example. 

“Marianna left hastily, while Valentina Mikhailovna jumped up from her armchair, on the point of shouting and bursting into tears. But she did not know what to shout and the tears did not come. 

[…] She recognized a certain portion of truth in what she had heard. But how could she be judged so harshly? “Can I be so evil?” she thought, looking at herself in the mirror which was placed between the two windows directly in front of her. This mirror reflected a delightful, somewhat distorted face, with prominent red patches, which was nevertheless charming, and remarkable, soft, velvet eyes. “Me. Am I evil,” she thought again, “with eyes like that?”…” (Ch.26) 

(translated by Michael Pursglove) 

I like that. 

The scene where Sipyagin tricks Paklin into revealing the whereabouts of Nezhdanov and Marianna is also good, especially the moment Paklin realises what he has done and tries to justify himself, in vain. 

Some other good bits in Virgin Soil are when the characters leave things unsaid. 

“Marianna wanted to ask for an explanation of these words, but did not, and anyway, at that moment Solomin came into the room.” (Ch.36)

That scene between Nezhdanov and Marianna is very good. I don’t particularly like the romance in the novel, but that particular scene is excellent. 

“Solomin went out and caught Marianna up on the stairs. He had intended to say something to her about Nezhdanov, but remained silent. And, for her part, Marianna realized that Solomin had intended to say something to her, about Nezhdanov in particular, and that he had remained silent. And she too remained silent.” (ibid.)

I like it when a writer depicts those moments when people leave things unsaid; when they don’t say, or can’t say, something. Chekhov and Henry James are the masters of those silences, Turgenev also does it.  

Turgenev depicts another silence in the final chapter of the book: 

“Mashurina merely nodded. She wanted him to continue speaking of Nezhdanov, but could not pluck up the courage to ask him.” (Ch.38) 

The entire chapter is poignant. I like that Turgenev ends the novel not on Marianna and Solomin, but on Paklin and Mashurina: we’re in a way moved further away from Nezhdanov, but we can see the impact of his death on somebody.

There are indeed some very good bits in the book. 

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Virgin Soil: Fomushka and Fimushka

Virgin Soil seems like the right book to read after Gary Saul Morson’s Wonder Confronts Certainty

Perhaps at some point I will write about Turgenev’s revolutionaries, but right now I’m interested in the old couple: the Subochevs, Foma Lavrentyevich (Fomushka) and Yevfimiya Pavlovna (Fimushka). 

This is how Paklin describes them: 

““No politics, no literature, nothing modern gets a look in there. […] The smell there is antique; the people are antique, the air is antique. Take anything you like and it’s antique. Catherine II, powder, hooped skirts, the eighteenth century! […] They’re awfully like one another, only she wears a mobcap and he a nightcap—with the same ruches as the mobcap, but minus the ribbon. If it wasn’t for this ribbon, you wouldn’t know who was who…”” 

(translated by Michael Pursglove) 

Personally I think not much of interest has happened before this point. Nezhdanov, an illegitimate son of an aristocrat, and a Red, is employed as a tutor by the privy councillor Sipyagin; there he meets a few progressive people who want to “do something”—Marianna (Sipyagin’s niece), Markelov (Sipyagin’s brother-in-law), Solomin (a factory owner), etc. Paklin, one of the revolutionaries Nezhdanov has known from before, visits him, gets introduced to the others, and then takes them to the Subochevs, who gave shelter to his sister. 

“The Subochevs’ coachman, too, was an extremely ancient man, redolent of train oil and pitch; his beard began near his eyes and his eyebrows fell to his beard in a little cascade. He was so slow in all his movements that he used up a whole five minutes to take a pinch of snuff, two minutes to stick his whip into his belt and over two hours to harness Moveless alone.” 

Doesn’t that sound more like something out of Gogol? 

“When together, they were never bored, so they were never apart and did not wish for any other company. Neither Fomushka nor Fimushka had ever been seriously ill, and if one of them had some slight indisposition, they both drank an infusion of lime blossom, had warm oil rubbed onto the smalls of their backs or hot fat dropped onto the soles of their feet, and it soon passed.” 

The episode with the Subochevs is unlike anything that came before. It is—I wouldn’t say out-of-place—incongruous. 

I like it though. The old couple. The house. The servants in the house. The whole scene. It is lively, and unexpected. 

Saturday 19 August 2023

15 films I hate

Curious, aren’t you? I generally avoid blogging about things I hate, but today let’s stir shit up.

Note that I will only name films which are highly acclaimed, or which are with a huge fanbase and considered iconic—the sacred cows, so to speak—it’s no fun mentioning something popular but slammed by critics and relatively recent (such as Twilight or superhero rubbish). 

Here’s the list: 

Lolita (dir. Stanley Kubrick) 

The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick) 

The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick) 

The Shape of Water (dir. Guillermo del Toro) 

Mank (dir. David Fincher) 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (dir. Martin McDonagh) 

Back to the Future (dir. Robert Zemeckis) 

Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi) 

Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuaron) 

Anything I have seen by Jean-Luc Godard, except Vivre sa vie 

Oldboy (dir. Park Chan-wook) 

Rope (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) 

Emma (dir. Douglas McGrath) 

Emma (dir. Autumn de Wilde)

Jane Eyre (dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga) 

The list has just got updated on 20/8. 

Friday 18 August 2023

My 10 favourite films (2023 list)

One film per director. 

Persona (dir. Ingmar Bergman)  

Sunset Boulevard (dir. Billy Wilder) 

Ran (dir. Akira Kurosawa) 

Casablanca (dir. Michael Curtis) 

A Star Is Born (dir. George Cukor) 

The Conversation (dir. Francis Ford Coppola) 

The Phantom of Liberty (dir. Luis Bunuel) 

The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (dir. Yasujiro Ozu) 

Raise the Red Lantern (dir. Zhang Yimou) 

F for Fake (dir. Orson Welles) 

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Chekhov’s “The Letter” and “A Nightmare”

Not enough is said about the great value of Constance Garnett’s 13 volumes of Chekhov. I like her prose, I also like the way she organises the stories—for example, Volume 7 has “The Bishop”, “The Letter”, “Easter Eve”, “A Nightmare”, “The Murder”, “Uprooted”, and “The Steppe”—she groups together several stories which have a religious theme or setting and which can be read together, and adds some different stories so it’s never boring. 

Volume 7 begins with “The Bishop”, one of his finest stories, and possibly Vasily Grossman’s favourite, as he mentions it in both Life and Fate and Everything Flows. The story is Chekhov’s answer to The Death of Ivan Ilyich: oppressed by illness and overwhelmed with work, the bishop has no time to think about death or God, and when he thinks about his life, he doesn’t ask himself if he has lived a good and worthwhile life, but thinks about his mother and his childhood. 

Bishops and priests in Chekhov’s world are perfectly human—there are no saints—that’s what I love about Chekhov. 

“The Bishop” is followed with “The Letter”. 

“Not everyone knows when to be silent and when to go. It not infrequently happens that even diplomatic persons of good worldly breeding fail to observe that their presence is arousing a feeling akin to hatred in their exhausted or busy host, and that this feeling is being concealed with an effort and disguised with a lie. But Father Anastasy perceived it clearly, and realized that his presence was burdensome and inappropriate, that his Reverence, who had taken an early morning service in the night and a long mass at midday, was exhausted and longing for repose; every minute he was meaning to get up and go, but he did not get up, he sat on as though he were waiting for something.”

In the story, Chekhov moves between different perspectives, depicting both the “feeling akin to hatred” in the exhausted host, and the mind of the unwelcome guest who knows he has to leave but somehow doesn’t go. 

“His Reverence believed in people’s reforming, but now when a feeling of pity had been kindled in him it seemed to him that this disgraced, worn-out old man, entangled in a network of sins and weaknesses, was hopelessly wrecked, that there was no power on earth that could straighten out his spine, give brightness to his eyes and restrain the unpleasant timid laugh which he laughed on purpose to smoothe over to some slight extent the repulsive impression he made on people.

The old man seemed now to Father Fyodor not guilty and not vicious, but humiliated, insulted, unfortunate; his Reverence thought of his wife, his nine children, the dirty beggarly shelter at Zyavkin’s; he thought for some reason of the people who are glad to see priests drunk and persons in authority detected in crimes; and thought that the very best thing Father Anastasy could do now would be to die as soon as possible and to depart from this world for ever.”

Who else but Chekhov would write a passage like that about a priest? It is so good. In “The Letter”, he writes about two priests and a deacon, and depicts them with such keen insight, such compassion and humanity. His characters are all human. 

In “A Nightmare”, there’s a priest named Father Yakov, and he’s seen through the eyes of Kunin, a member of the Rural Board. 

“With his short figure, his narrow chest, his red and perspiring face, he made from the first moment a most unpleasant impression on Kunin. The latter could never have imagined that there were such undignified and pitiful-looking priests in Russia; and in Father Yakov’s attitude, in the way he held his hands on his knees and sat on the very edge of his chair, he saw a lack of dignity and even a shade of servility.”

Writing from the perspective of Kunin, Chekhov doesn’t hold back: 

“Father Yakov was so absorbed in drinking tea that he did not answer this question at once. He lifted his grey-blue eyes to Kunin, thought a moment, and as though recalling his question, he shook his head in the negative. An expression of pleasure and of the most ordinary prosaic appetite overspread his face from ear to ear. He drank and smacked his lips over every gulp. When he had drunk it to the very last drop, he put his glass on the table, then took his glass back again, looked at the bottom of it, then put it back again. The expression of pleasure faded from his face. . . .”

As it is Chekhov, there would be a turn in the story, but I won’t go into detail—all I’ll say is that I love the way he writes about the indignity of poverty, and the pride of a poor person who desperately tries to hide his poverty—it is so moving. 


I have finished reading Gary Saul Morson’s Wonder Confronts Certainty. If you’re interested in Russian literature and history, ideology, and big questions, this is the book for you. 

I love that Morson ends the book with Chekhov. He too is my hero. 

Monday 14 August 2023

Musings on Jane Austen—a personal blog post

1/ It’s strange how these things work. There are writers with whom it was love at first sight (Tolstoy, Melville). There are writers I came to like over time (Jane Austen). There are writers I had to rediscover (Shakespeare, Chekhov). And sometimes a writer comes to mean a lot more to me at a particular stage of my life, like Chekhov at the moment, whilst I’m having a difficult time. As I move closer to Chekhov, it so happens that I move further away from Jane Austen. It’s not because I think less highly of her, but the themes of balance, misperception, and appearance vs reality now mean less to me; whereas the subjects that now occupy me didn’t seem to interest Austen: death, grief, loneliness, longing, sex, sexual desire, unhappiness, fleetingness of love, search for meaning, and so on. 

2/ I’ve never got out of my head Nabokov’s remark in his lecture about Mansfield Park

“Nobody in Mansfield Park dies in the arms of the author and reader, as people do in Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy. The deaths in Mansfield Park happen somewhere behind the scenes and excite little emotion. These dull deaths have, however, a curiously strong influence on the development of plot.”

This is true for all of Jane Austen’s novels: deaths happen off-stage, and they’re often, if not always, functional (in Nabokov’s words: “affect the development of the novel and are introduced for structural purposes, purposes of development”). 

3/ I reread Pride and Prejudice several months ago. I have always had a complicated relationship with it: I like it a lot, but it’s too light, bright, and sparkling, too much like a woman’s fantasy. Mr Darcy might exist, but you’re not going to meet him. 

(I myself prefer Mr Knightley). 

4/ It probably says something about me that my favourite Austen novel is Mansfield Park, her darkest, most sombre novel.

Like her other novels, it has a happy ending, but she gives us a vision, a glimpse of something else that might have happened: Fanny Price back in Portsmouth, poor, alienated, unhappy, forever unable to get out; or married to Henry Crawford, betrayed, humiliated, and miserable.

These visions are gloomier than what her other heroines might have experienced if they hadn’t got a happy ending.

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Musings on Flannery O’Connor and vision

There is often something violent in the works of Flannery O’Connor. In A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, the weakest stories are those in which nothing happens—like “A Stroke of Good Fortune” or “A Late Encounter with the Enemy”—stories of nothing happening, the domain of Chekhov, are not her thing. In her best stories, there’s usually something shocking, something violent or brutal or destructive. And she doesn’t hold back. 

Flannery O’Connor is a strange, fascinating writer. Strange, because she has a weird way of seeing and depicting things, and I often find her elusive. Fascinating, as she has an imposing personality and an uncompromising, pitiless quality. 

Above all, it is strange that I don’t know what draws me to her short stories. Not long ago, I tweeted that I didn’t find the great works of Russian literature depressing even though they depicted war, disease, death, cruelty, humiliation, suffering… whereas the works of Tanizaki (specifically Naomi), Joyce Carol Oates, or Elfriede Jelinek filled me with disgust and left a bad taste in my mouth. The difference, I’ve concluded, is in vision: Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky…, in spite of everything, still demonstrate a love of life and humanity, and a belief in freedom and human dignity; Vasily Grossman, even when he writes about the worst horrors of the 20th century, believes in dignity and kindness and offers a glimpse of hope; whereas the works of Tanizaki, Elfriede Jelinek, or Joyce Carol Oates are devoid of light, depicting human beings as just base and depraved. 

I don’t share such a vision of life. Even my current job, in which I regularly speak to refugees, victims of religious persecution, and victims of human trafficking, doesn’t make me cynical, for I still see people stand up for the truth and for justice, I still see people try to help others, I still see people try to make changes. 

Why then do I like Flannery O’Connor? She has a dark, dark view of humanity. In one story, a group of fugitives kills an entire family. In two stories, some men deceive and take advantage of disabled women. In another story, a group of adolescents causes havoc for no reason but their own meanness, and sets the woods on fire. And there’s a story in which a grandfather, the moment he’s needed the most, rejects his own grandson and debases himself out of fear and cowardice. It is a cold, brutal world she depicts and there is no glimpse of hope, no glimpse of human kindness. 

And yet, her stories don’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. Why? What does she have that Elfriede Jelinek, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tanizaki lack? 

Sunday 30 July 2023

100 latest films and plays I've watched

From January 2023 to July 2023

In bold: films and plays I think are good 

1/ 海街 diary (Our Little Sister - Japan - 2015) 

2/ 女が階段を上る時 (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs - Japan - 1960) 

3/ Jeffrey Dahmer: Mind Of A Monster (2020) 

4/ Tár (2022) 

4/ The Green River Killer: Mind Of A Monster (2020) 

5/ A Murder in the Family: Cheryl Hooper (2023) 

6/ The Whale (2022) 

7/ Mary Kay Letourneau: Notes On A Scandal (2022) 

8/ CODA (2021) 

9/ The Butcher Baker: Mind of a Monster (2020) 

10/ The Fabelmans (2022) 

11/ Clarkson's Farm - Season 2 (2023) - 8 episodes 

12/ My Insta Scammer Friend (2022) 

13/ Dirty Dancing (1987) 

14/ Old Boys (2018) 

15/ The Breakfast Club (1985) 

16/ Emily Atack: Asking for It (2023) 

17/ 東方三俠 (The Heroic Trio - Hong Kong - 1993) 

18/ 警察故事3超級警察 (Police Story 3: Supercop - Hong Kong - 1992) 

19/ 警察故事 (Police Story - Hong Kong - 1985) 

20/ Война и мир: Андрей Болконский (War and Peace, Part 1: Andrei Bolkonsky - Soviet Union - 1966) 

21/ Война и мир: Наташа Ростова (War and Peace, Part 2: Natasha Rostova - Soviet Union - 1966)

22/ Война и мир: 1812 год (War and Peace, Part 3: The Year 1812 - Soviet Union - 1967) 

23/ Война и мир: Пьер Безухов (War and Peace, Part 4: Pierre Bezukhov - Soviet Union - 1967) 

24/ Ma nuit chez Maud (My Night at Maud's - France - 1969) 

25/ King Lear (1983, ft. Laurence Olivier) 

26/ Buying a British Dad (2023) 

27/ Much Ado About Nothing (1984 BBC) 

28/ The Lost Weekend (1945) 

29/ Le Genou de Claire (Claire's Knee - France - 1970) 

30/ Hamlet (1990 New York Shakespeare Festival, ft. Kevin Kline) 

31/ Catching a Pervert: Sexual Assault for Sale (2023) 

32/ A Midsummer Night's Dream (1968) 

33/ Hamlet (2018, ft. Andrew Scott) 

34/ The Monkey Haters (2023) 

35/ Panorama: Is China Watching You? (2023)

36/ The Mentalist: Bloodshot (2009) 

37/ The Mentalist: Carnelian Inc. (2009) 

38/ The Mentalist: Russet Potatoes (2009) 

39/ The Mentalist: A Dozen Red Roses (2009) 

40/ The Mentalist: Red Sauce (2009)  

41/ The Mentalist: Miss Red (2009) 

42/ The Mentalist: Blood Brothers (2009) 

43/ The Mentalist: Red John's Footsteps (2009) 

44/ The Mentalist: Redemption (2009) 

45/ The Mentalist: The Scarlet Letter (2009) 

46/ The Mentalist: Red Badge (2009) 

47/ The Mentalist: Red Menace (2009) 

48/ The Mentalist: Red Scare (2009) 

49/ The Mentalist: Pilot (2008)

50/ The Mentalist: Red Hair and Silver Tape (2008)

51/ The Mentalist: Red Scare (2009)

52/ The Mentalist: Black Gold and Red Blood (2009) 

53/ The Mentalist: Red Bulls (2009) 

54/ The Mentalist: His Red Right Hand (2009) 

55/ The Mentalist: A Price Above Rubies (2009) 

56/ The Mentalist: Throwing Fire (2009)

57/ The Mentalist: Rose-Colored Glasses (2010) 

58/ The Mentalist: Red Tide (2008) 

59/ The Mentalist: Ladies in Red (2008) 

60/ The Mentalist: Red Wood (2008) 

61/ The Mentalist: Red Handed (2008) 

62/ Oppenheimer (2023)

63/ The Mentalist: Bleeding Heart (2010) 

64/ The Mentalist: Redline (2010) 

65/ The Mentalist: Blood In, Blood Out (2010) 

66/ The Mentalist: Red Herring (2010) 

67/ The Mentalist: Seeing Red (2008) 

68/ The Mentalist: The Thin Red Line (2008) 

69/ The Mentalist: Flame Red (2008) 

70/ The Mentalist: Red Brick and Ivy (2008) 

71/ The Mentalist: Red John's Friends (2009) 

72/ The Mentalist: Red Rum (2009) 

73/ The Mentalist: Paint It Red (2009) 

74/ The Mentalist: Crimson Casanova (2009) 

75/ The Mentalist: Red Letter (2010) 

76/ The Mentalist: Red Sky in the Morning (2010) 

77/ The Mentalist: Red Sky at Night (2010) 

78/ The Mentalist: Code Red (2010) 

79/ The Mentalist: Red Box (2010) 

80/ The Mentalist: Aingavite Baa (2010) 

81/ The Mentalist: Cackle-Bladder Blood (2010) 

82/ The Mentalist: The Blood on His Hands (2010) 

83/ The Mentalist: Red Carpet Treatment (2010)  

84/ The Mentalist: The Red Ponies (2010)

85/ The Mentalist: Pink Chanel Suit (2010) 

86/ The Mentalist: Red Hot (2010) 

87/ The Mentalist: Ball of Fire (2010) 

88/ The Mentalist: Red Moon (2010) 

89/ The Mentalist: Jolly Red Elf (2010) 

90/ The Mentalist: Bloodsport (2010) 

91/ The Mentalist: Bloodhounds (2010) 

92/ The Mentalist: Red Alert (2010) 

93/ The Mentalist: Blood for Blood (2010) 

94/ The Mentalist: Red Gold (2010) 

95/ The Mentalist: Red Queen (2010) 

96/ The Mentalist: Bloodstream (2010) 

97/ The Mentalist: The Red Mile (2011) 

98/ The Mentalist: Every Rose Has Its Thorn (2011) 

99/ The Mentalist: Redacted (2011) 

100/ The Mentalist: Like a Redheaded Stepchild (2011)