Flaubert’s “Sentimental Education”, II

And he went into a private room by himself. Through the two open windows he could see people in the windows of the houses opposite. Broad puddles quivered like watered silk on the drying asphalt, and a magnolia at the edge of the balcony filled the room with its perfume. This scent and the cool of the evening soothed his nerves; and he sank onto the red divan under the mirror…. etc., etc.

I feel guilty, because Flaubert probably spent hours writing that paragraph, but when I came to  it  I just skimmed past, because who cares? Likewise, when the woman Frederic has pursued for years takes him on a guided tour of her husband’s ceramics factory in order to keep him from declaring his love, that’s hilarious, but did Flaubert really have to spend two days reading up on ceramics just so he could have Mme. Arnoux use the terms “drabblers” and “roughing shop” correctly? There’s tons of that stuff, and Flaubert worked so hard on it, but I just don’t care.

Is not Mme. Arnoux, heaping up facts into a barrier making communication impossible, the very image of the realistic novelist? Or is it Frédéric, the obsessive lover — who is reminded of his supposed beloved  by every tiny detail of pretty much anything? (Here we are, back with Petrarch again).

Nonetheless, with Sentimental Education Flaubert, after several false starts, finally succeeded in writing a non-annoying novel. I will even go further, and declare that in this book, Flaubert came as close as any novelist ever has to portraying the real nature of the man-eating  Giant Catfish of Love, in all its vast stupidity. (Yes, man-eating. Woman are not Flaubert’s job).

Frédéric is the most inept seducer ever, and he ends up relaying messages between M. Arnoux (the wealthy man to whom he has attached himself), Arnoux’s lovely wife (whom he is intent on seducing), and Arnoux’s also-lovely mistress (whom he is also intent on seducing, though several hundred pages into the novel  he still hasn’t scored with either).* And then, after that, he starts offering each of them relationship counseling. There’s no way these scenes could be improved.

And when  the Mme. Arnoux’s wife finally does comes to Frederic’s place, alone, it is only to wheedle a substantial never-to-be-repaid loan out of him in order to save her beloved husband from bankruptcy; when Frédéric makes his play, after years of pining, Mme Arnoux   responds with a lecture on prudence worthy of a Kansas housewife. Finally, Frederic fights a comic duel to defend the good name of M. Arnoux…. or maybe Mme. Arnoux’s good name… or maybe Arnoux’s mistress’s good name. (Les Arnoux were the Tom and Daisy Buchanan of their time.)

It’s useless. It’s hard to make an antiwar movie because movies have to be exciting, and the excitement will make them objectively prowar. Same for anti-drug messages. And every book about high society explains that people in high society are shallow and heartless, but high society rolls on untouched, and the moths still flock to the candle, using these novels as guidebooks**. Love affairs in novels always end badly, but that makes no difference at all – people who already have an incurable love itch seldom even bother to read them, and if the do they don’t get the message. These stories might have some restorative and comforting effect for those who have already been terribly singed, but they don’t keep anyone away from the flame.


Early in the morning they went to visit the palace. Going through the main gate, they saw the whole facade in front of them.: the five towers with their pointed roofs and the horseshoe staircase at the far end of the courtyard, which was flanked on the left and the right by two lower buildings. In the distance, the moss-covered paving stones blended with the fawn tint of the bricks…etc., etc.

This is the Fontainebleau Palace, and he goes on for the greater part of four pages. It’s like Sir Walter Scott.


*Frederic finally does score on page 283, but you just know that his triumph will end up turning to ashes in his mouth.

** In fact, Hugh Hefner modeled the Playboy Lifestyle (TM) and the Playboy Philosophy (TM) on The Great Gatsby, which he read as a tribute to Tom and Daisy Buchanan, and his concept sold like hotcakes.

Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 7:00 pm  Comments (4)  

Why Did Henry James Kill Daisy Miller?

“Here comes my sister! She’s an American girl.”  

Randolph Miller in Henry James, Daisy Miller, 1878.

The American girl is different. Daisy Miller horrified European America and much of Europe with her cheerful boldness, so Henry James killed her with a villainous miasma. Why?

There are two stories in Daisy Miller. First, the comedy of manners: an heiress goes to Europe and shocks American-European high society with her free-and-easy, potentially lewd American ways. Second, the public-health story: an heiress goes to Europe and dies of malaria. James mushes these two not-very-gripping stories together:  if heiress A is the same person as heiress B, the feeling of meaning emerges. (more…)

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 4:51 pm  Comments (9)  

Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel


From "Poemas del río Wang"

Published in: on July 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  

A Forgotten and Not Very Good Author

Sometime later I will publish my definitive study of the works of David George Plotkin / Kin,  a forgotten minor author whose last book was published sometime between 1958 and 1968. His two most famous works were forgeries, and  two or three of the others were scurrilous smears. Not a very good writer, really, but he did succeed in mixing it up and keeping things interesting.

Key words: poetry, American Jews, Brownsville, Elias Lieberman, Thomas Seltzer, Otto Soglow, The Great Depression, cartoons, Pascal Covici, The Fall of Singapore, World War Two, Friedrich Nietzsche, forgery, Samuel Roth, Burton K. Wheeler, Philip Roth, scurrilous smear job, Communists, Maxwell Bodenheim, Greenwich Village, lesbians, Merrill’s Marauders, maxims, proverbs, pornography.

The Works of David Plotkin / Kin

David George Plotkin (introduction by Elias Lieberman) , Ghetto Gutters,  Thomas Seltzer, 1926. (Poetry: A Magazine of Verse  review of Ghetto Gutters /Braithwaite, Anthology of Magazine Verse, review of Ghetto Gutters / Poetry: A Magazine of Verse mentions Plotkin / a poem by Lieberman / Thomas Seltzer, publisher / Albert and Charles Boni, Seltzer’s nephews who revived his publishing company).

Otto Soglow (cartoonist) and David George Plotkin, Wasn’t the Depression Terrible?, Covici Friede, 1934. (Book cover  / Time Magazine review / Pascal Covici, publisher.)

David George Kin, Rage in Singapore,  Wisdom House, 1942.

Pseudo-Friedrich Nietzsche (forged by David George Kin), My Sister and I, Boar’s Head Books, 1951. (Kin’s confession /  Samuel Roth, publisher /  Some still take My Sister and I  at face value / Dennis Dutton on My Sister and I / Hollingsdale review / Disputed Nietzsche I II  III / Kathleen Winiger, “The Disputed Nietzsche: My Sister and I, by Friedrich Nietzsche”: Telos: A Quarterly Journal of Critical Thought. No. 91. Spring, 1992, pp. 185-189.)

David George Kin, The Plot Against America,  John E. Kennedy Publishers, 1946. (Commissioned as a smear on Sen. Burton K. Wheeler /  Kin’s book was investigated by Congress / Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America)

Maxwell Bodenheim (“edited” and probably mostly written by David Kin), My Life and Loves in Greenwich VillageBridgehead Books,  1954. (Kin and the Bodenheim autobiography / Maxwell Bodenheim)

David Kin (preface by J. Donald Adams), Dictionary of American Maxims, Philosophical Library, 1955.

David Kin (preface by Mark Van Doren), Dictionary of American Proverbs, Philosophical Library, 1955.

David George Plotkin, Women Without Men: True Stories about Lesbian Love in Greenwich Village, Brookwood Publishing Company, 1958. (This may be the same book under the pseudonym Noel O’Hara.  Similar misogynist, homophobic books from Manhattan: Loathsome Women Why Men Rule )

Published in: on May 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm  Comments (2)  

To see ourselves as others see us

She started shriekin'.

She started shriekin’.

The most important dumb Swede in American history was Chief Justice Earl Warren. In film, Sonja Henie was dumb, Greta Garbo was less dumb, and Ingrid Bergman was not dumb.

In general, Swedes are either madmen or dumb. Madness trumps dumbness — if a Swede is a madman, his dumbness is moot. Gaear Grimsrud was probably both, but who knows? (more…)

Published in: on January 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm  Comments (8)  

“Lie Down in Darkness”, William Styron


“Marry a Jew or a Chinaman or a Swede, it’s all fine if you’re prompted by any motive, including money, save that of guilt.” (Milton Loftis on p. 74 of William Styron’s “Lie Down in Darkness”.)

I entirely agree. May none of you ever marry a Swede from motives of guilt.


1. When William Styron has Peyton Loftis say of her relationship to her father Milton “I think we have a Freudian attachment”, is Styron a.) telegraphing his punch, b.) belaboring the obvious, or c.) going postmodern and meta ahead of the rest?

2. When Styron keeps talking about Peyton’s hips, isn’t the interest he’s taking in his fictional character’s ass as unhealthy, in its way, as Milton Loftis’s Oedipal fixation on his daughter — pretty much regardless of how lovely Peyton’s fictional ass really was?

3. They seem to be finally making a movie out of the book. In her prime, wouldn’t Brooke Shields have made a great Peyton Loftis?

4. Helen Peyton Loftis thought that her daughter Peyton Loftis was irredeemably evil by nature, whereas William Styron thinks that it was Helen who was irredeemably evil. Might not the entire Peyton line have been an evil spawn cursed by God, so that both were right?

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm  Comments (2)  

Wodehouse Quiz

Wooster and Jeeves represent which two social types?

a. Jeeves represents the working class; Wooster represents the idle rentier class. 

b. Wooster represents the parasitical aristocracy; Jeeves represents their also-parasitical lackeys. 

c. Wooster represents the powerless and silly Mikado or Caliph whose power is purely symbolic; Jeeves represents the businesslike Shogun or Sultan who holds all real power. 

d. The ignorant Wooster represents the dominant property-owning moiety of the dominant class; the well-read Jeeves represents the dominated moiety; Wodehouse’s portrait of the relationship is the wishful projection of the dominated intelligentsia.

Published in: on January 21, 2011 at 9:06 pm  Comments (6)  

A happy ending which only The Buddha could bring

She rained tears and made prostrations day and night without ceasing. Three days later, during her worship, she saw an image of the Buddha, who announced to her “Your bridegroom’s lifespan is coming to an end. You need only continue your ardent practice without harboring sorrowful thoughts.” The next day her bridegroom was gored to death by an ox.

Lives of the Nuns, tr. Katherine Ann Tsai (Hawai’i, 1994), pp. 49-50; cited by Mark Edward Lewis on p. 193 of China Between Empires (Harvard, 2009).

Published in: on January 13, 2011 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Heredia, “Les trophées”

For a realistic picture of the life of the centaur you can’t beat the sequence “Hercule et les Centaures” in Heredia’s Les trophées. He gets down to the nitty-gritty — the seating arrangements for the various sorts of inlaws at centaur weddings, for example, or the stresses put on the centaur marriage by husbands who are continually sneaking off to score blonde chicks, and by wives in heat galloping off to run with the thoroughbreds.


Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 11:07 pm  Leave a Comment  


The American politician Fiorello La Guardia was the U.S. consul for Trieste and neighboring areas from 1901 to 1906. James Joyce moved to Trieste in 1904 and stayed for 16 years. La Guardia was partly of Hungarian Jewish descent. Leopold Bloom was partly of Hungarian Jewish descent.


La Guardia was born in Greenwich Village to an Italian lapsed-Catholic father, Achille La Guardia, from Cerignola, and a Triestine mother of Jewish Hungarian origin, Irene Coen Luzzato; he was raised an Episcopalian, despite being confirmed as a Jew by the Halakha, which decides who is a Jew or not. His middle name “Enrico” was changed to “Henry” (the English form of Enrico) when he was a child. He lived in Trieste, his mother’s hometown, after his father was discharged from his bandmaster position in the U.S. Army in 1898.La Guardia served in U.S. consulates in Budapest, Trieste, and Rijeka (1901–1906). Fiorello returned to the U.S. to continue his education at New York University. During this time, he worked for New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children as an interpreter for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration at the Ellis Island immigrant station (1907–1910).


Published in: on December 17, 2010 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment