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The sky behind the townlet and the church was orange-red; the flower-garden was flooded with a strange warm light that lifted every leaf into significance. Paul passed along a fine row of sweet-peas, gathering a blossom here and there, all cream and pale blue. Miriam followed, breathing the fragrance. To her, flowers appealed with such strength she felt she must make them part of herself. When she bent and breathed a flower, it was as if she and the flower were loving each other. Paul hated her for it. There seemed a sort of exposure about the action, something too intimate.

Sons and lovers, D H Lawrence

Don’t ask yourself so much whether this or that is good for you. Don’t question your conscience so much—it will get out of tune, like a strummed piano. Keep it for great occasions. Don’t try so much to form your character—it’s like trying to pull open a rosebud. Live as you like best, and your character will form itself.

The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James

BCR

To Virginia Woolf

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless, nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple, desperate, human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed, and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this—but oh my dear, I can’t be clever and standoffish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how standoffish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.

Vita Sackville-West, 1927, Milan

 

Tokyo Story (1953)

“I started reading very early. My father worked in a factory and my mother worked as a waitress, but they were avid readers. We didn’t always have a lot of food, or a lot of toys, but there were a lot of books. I fell in love with books very early on in life – they way they looked, the way they felt, and I was always curious about what was inside them. So I didn’t need much encouragement. In fact, I begged my mother to teach me to read before I went to school. The first book I spent a lot of time with was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I was a very sickly child – I had bronchial pneumonia, tuberculosis, Asiatic flu, mumps, measles, scarlet fever – so I had lots of time to stay in bed and read. And Robert Louis Stevenson was a sickly child, too, and wrote a lot of poems about or for children who were convalescing, so they really spoke to me.”

Patti Smith talks ELLE (October Issue) through the literature that has shaped her life and career.

Was not poetry a secret transaction, a voice answering a voice?

For what more terrifying revelation can there be than that it is the present moment? That we survive the shock at all is only possible because the past shelters us on one side and the future on the other.

All had grown dark. The tears streamed down his face. Looking up into the sky there was nothing but blackness there too. Ruin and death, he thought, cover all. The life of man ends in the grave. Worms devour us.

Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography; movie stills from Sally Potter’s Orlando

The title of this lecture is “The Concept of Irony,” which is a title taken from Kirkegaard, who wrote the best book on irony that’s available, called The Concept of Irony. It’s an ironic title, because irony is not a concept – and that’s partly the thesis which I’m going to develop. I should preface this with a  passage from Friedrich Schlegel, who will be the main author I’ll have to talk about, who says the following, talking about irony: “Wer sie night hat, dem bleibt sie auch nach dem offensten Geständnis ein Rätsel.” “The one who doesn’t have it (irony), to him it remains, even after the most open disquisition, an enigma.” You will never understand – so we can stop right here, and all go home.

Paul de Man, “The Concept of Irony”

Almost any tale of our doings is comic. We are bottomlessly comic to each other.  Even the most adored and beloved person is comic to his lover. The novel is a comic form. Language is a comic form, and makes jokes in its sleep.  God, if He existed, would laugh at His creation. Yet it is also the case that life is horrible, without metaphysical sense, wrecked by chance, pain and the close prospect of death. Out of this is born irony, our dangerous and necessary tool.

Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince

Klimt Two Girls with Oleander

“Oleandrin and neriine are two very potent cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) found in all parts of the plant. Red flowered varieties of oleander appear to be more toxic. Oleander remains toxic when dry. A single leaf can be lethal to a child eating it, although mortality is generally very low in humans. The lethal dose of the green oleander leaves for cattle and horses has been found to be 0.005% of the animal’s body weight. The minimum lethal dose of oleander for cattle was found to be 50mg/kg body weight. Horses given 40mg/kg body weight of green oleander leaves via nasogastric tube consistently developed severe gastrointestinal and cardiac toxicosis. Cardiac glycosides that act by inhibiting the cellular membrane sodium-potassium (Na+-K+ ATPase enzyme system) pump with resulting depletion of intracellular potassium and an increase in serum potassium. This results in progressive decrease in electrical conductivity through the heart causing irregular heart activity, and eventual complete block of cardiac activity, and death.”

(From: Colorado State Univeristy)

“It’s a word which has been discredited by the Romantics. I don’t see it as a state of grace nor as a breath from heaven but as the moment when, by tenacity and control, you are at one with your theme. When you want to write something, a kind of reciprocal tension is established between you and your theme, so you spur the theme on and the theme spurs you on too. There comes a moment when all obstacles fade away, all conflicts disappears, things you never dreamt of occur to you and, at that moment, there is absolutely nothing in the world better writing. That is what I would call inspiration.”

(Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Fragrance of Guava)

No use for Calliope there then.

Marcello Baciarelli, Calliope

“But she could not do it; she could not say it. Then, knowing that he was watching her, instead of saying anything she turned, holding her stocking, and looked at him. And as she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not said a word, he knew, of course he knew, that she loved him. He could not deny it. And smiling she looked out of the window and said (thinking to herself, Nothing on earth can equal this happiness) – ‘Yes, you were right. It’s going to be wet tomorrow.’ She had not said it, but he knew it. And she looked at him smiling. For she had triumphed again.”

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Peder Severin Kroyer – Havepartie med Marie Kroyer

“These were the things she wanted; gay house-parties, people with beautiful wavering complexions and masses of shimmering hair catching the light, fragrant filmy diaphanous dressses; these were the people to whom she belonged – a year or two of life like that, dancing and singing in and out the houses and gardens; and then marriage. Living alone, sadly estranged, in a house of a husband who loved her and with whom she was in love, both of them thinking that the other had married because they had lost their way in a thunderstorm or spent the night sitting up on a mountain-top or because a clause in a will, and then one day both finding out the truth. “

Dorothy Richardson, Backwater (Pilgrimage II)

Edmund Tarbell, Mercie Cutting Flowers