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Browsing my parents’ bookshelves recently, in the dog days that followed sending Anna Karenina off to press, I found myself staring at a row of small hardback volumes all the same size. One in particular, with the words Romola and George Eliot embossed in gold on the dark green spine, caught my attention. It was an Oxford World’s Classics pocket edition – a present to my grandmother from her younger sister, who wrote an affectionate inscription in curling black ink (“with Best Love to Dellie on her 20th birthday from Mabel, July 3rd 1917”), and forgot to rub out the price of 1 shilling and 3 pence pencilled inside the front cover. Inside the back cover, meanwhile, towards the bottom of a long list of World’s Classics titles, my heart missed a beat when I espied “Tolstoy, Anna Karenina: in preparation”: Louise and Aylmer Maude’s translation was first published only in 1918.
As I drove homethat night with Romola in my bag, I thought about my grandmother reading Eliot’s novel (unusually set in Florence during the Renaissance, rather than in 19th-century England), and I also thought about the seismic changes taking place in Russia at the time of her birthday in 1917. I wondered whether she was given the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of Anna Karenina for her 21st birthday, and was disappointed on a later visit to my parents to be presented with her copy of Nathan Haskell Dole’s pioneering but wholly inadequate translation, reprinted in the inexpensive Nelson Classics series. I pictured my grandmother struggling with sentences such as those describing Anna’s hostile engagement with her husband. After Karenin has begun upbraiding Anna for consorting too openly with Vronsky at the beginning of the novel (Part 2, chapter 9), we read, for example: ‘“Nu-s! I hear you,” she said, in a calm tone of banter’. The Maudes later translated this sentence into English (“Well, I’m listening! What next?” said she quietly and mockingly”), but they also changed Tolstoy’s punctuation, and the sarcastically deferential tone of Anna’s voice (Nu-s, ya slushayu, chto budet, – progovorila ona spokoino i nasmeshlivo – “Well, I’m ready to hear what is next,” she said coolly and derisively”).
Back in 1917, Oxford Word’s Classics “pocket editions” featured a line-drawn portrait of the author, but no other illustration. These days, nearly every edition of Anna Karenina has a picture of a woman on the cover, even if Tolstoy’s bearded face is absent opposite the title page. More often than not it will be a Russian woman, painted by a Russian artist, and while we know this is not Anna, it is as if the limits of our imagination are somehow curbed before we even start reading. The dust-jacket for the new hardback Oxford World’s Classics edition of Anna Karenina reproduces Sir John Everett Millais’ portrait of Louise Jopling. The fact that this is an English painting of an English woman already mitigates against identifying her too closely with Anna, but this particular portrait is an inspired choice for other reasons, as I began to understand when I researched its history. To begin with, it was painted in 1879, just one year after Anna Karenina was first published as a complete novel. And the meticulous notes compiled by Vladimir Nabokov which anchor the events of the narrative between 1872 and 1876 also enable us to infer that the fictional Anna Karenina was about the same age as the real-life Louise Jopling, who was 36 when she sat for Millais. Their very different life paths, meanwhile, throw an interesting light on the theme at the centre of Tolstoy’s novel: the predicament of women.
Louise Jopling was one of the nine children born into the family of a railway contractor in Manchester in 1843. After getting married for the first time in 1861 at the age of 17 to Frank Romer, who was secretary to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, she studied painting in Paris, but returned to London at the end of the decade when her husband was fired. By 1874, her first husband (a compulsive gambler) and two of her three children were dead, she had married for the second time, to the watercolour painter Joseph Jopling, exhibited at the Royal Academy, and become a fixture in London’s artistic life. To enjoy any kind of success as a female painter at that time in Victorian Britain was an achievement, but even more remarkable was Louise Jopling’s lifelong campaign to improve women’s rights. She founded a professional art school for women in 1887, was a vigorous supporter of women’s suffrage, won voting rights for women at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters after being elected, fought for women to be able to paint from nude models, and became the first woman member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1902. None of these doors were open to Anna Karenina as a member of St. Petersburg high society, although we learn in the course of the novel that she has a keen artistic sense, is a discerning reader, writes children’s fiction, and has a serious interest in education. Tolstoy’s wife Sofya similarly was never given the opportunity to fulfil her potential as a writer, photographer, and painter.
Louise Jopling was a beautiful woman, as is immediately apparent from Millais’ portrait. In her memoirs she describes posing for him in a carefully chosen embroidered black gown made in Paris, and consciously donning a charming and typically feminine expression to match. On the third day she came to sit for Millais, however, the two friends chanced to talk about something which made her feel indignant, and she forgot to wear her “designedly beautiful expression”. What was finally fixed in the portrait was a defiant and “rather hard” look, which, as she acknowledges, ultimately endowed her face with greater character. This peculiar combination of beauty and defiance is perhaps what most recalls the character of Anna Karenina, who in Part 5 of the novel confronts social prejudice and hypocrisy head-on by daring to attend the Imperial Opera in the full glare of the high society grandes dames who have rejected her.
Louise Jopling’s concern with how she is represented in her portrait, as a professional artist in her own right, as a painter’s model, and as a woman, also speaks to Tolstoy’s detailed exploration of the commodification and objectification of women in society and in art (as discussed by Amy Mandelker in her important study Framing Anna Karenina). It is for this reason that we encounter women in a variety of different situations (ranging from the unhappily married Anna, to the betrayed and careworn housewife Dolly, the young bride Kitty, the unmarried companion Varenka, and the former prostitute Marya), and three separate portraits of the heroine, seen from different points of view. Ernest Rhys interestingly compares Anna Karenina to “a woman’s Iliad” in his introduction to the 1914 Everyman’s Library edition of the novel. Another kind of woman’s Iliad could also be woven from the differing stories of some of Tolstoy’s intrepid early translators, amongst them Clara Bell, Isabel Hapgood, Rochelle S. Townsend, Constance Garnett, Louise Maude, Rosemary Edmonds, and Ann Dunnigan, to whom we owe a debt for paving the way.
Podio has created an infographic called, “The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People.” The image (embedded below) shows the day-to-day schedules of 26 famous creative professionals including Lolita authorVladimir Nabokov, Slaughterhouse-Five authorKurt Vonnegut, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings author Maya Angelou.
Here’s more from The Huffington Post: “Whether we’re working on our latest novels, paintings or compositions and stuck in ruts, or we’re novices to the creative workspace entirely, we can all benefit from seeing how Charles Dickens, Pablo Picasso, and Mozart spent their days — even if it is just for fun.”
Want to develop a better work routine? Discover how some of the world’s greatest minds organized their days.
Click image to see the interactive version (via Podio).
Can you name all the trees, flowers and birds around you? According to legend, the great novelist Vladimir Nabokov once met a Cornell University who asked Nabokov for writing advice. The writing student received this curt reply:
Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window. ‘What kind of tree is that?’ he asks the student. ‘What?’ ‘What is the name of that tree?’ asks Nabokov. ‘The one outside my window.’ ‘I don’t know,’says the student. ‘You’ll never be a writer.’ says Nabokov.”
Debut novelist Brian Kimberling published Snapper this week, a novel drawn from his own experience as a bird researcher. His book is filled with careful and unexpected descriptions of nature, so we caught up with Kimberling for some nature writing advice…
First, if you, like me, are still feeling a bit down because of Ray Bradbury’s death, go spend some time with him in his Paris Review Interview and some reminiscing from the intern who had to fact check it. In the interview he talks of his beginnings, his career, his thoughts on science fiction and writing, who his influences are, his love of poetry, libraries, writing the screenplay for Moby Dick, his dislike of ereaders, and so much more.
Second, thanks to my marvy sister for sending me the link, watch a 40 minute “movie” of actor Christopher Plummer recreating Nabokov’s lecture on Kafka’s Metamorphosis (via)
Bradbury did not think much of Nabokov or Proust, Joyce, and Flaubert. They put him to sleep, he says. Bradbury much preferred George Bernard Shaw, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Steinbeck, Huxley, Shakespeare, Hopkins, Frost, and Thomas Wolfe. Bradbury was also an admirer of Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter.
Bradbury also says he was completely “library educated” and calls himself a librarian:
I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.
So I am sure he would really appreciate Bookyard. Bookyard is a joint art installation and library book sale in Ghent, Belgium. It will be up through September 16th with all proceeds from the sale of books going to local libraries. While I would like to visit Ghent someday, this summer will not be the time. If, however, you will be in Ghent this summer, be sure to visit the Bookyard!
Flavorpill has collected the doodles of famous authors, including Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Allen Ginsberg, Mark Twain, Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jorge Luis Borges.
The drawings ranged from insect portraits to nightmare images. Wallace drew one of the funnier pieces, doodling glasses and fangs on a photo of Cormac McCarthy.
Vonnegut (pictured with his artwork, via) incorporated many of his drawings into his books. He even had his own art gallery exhibitions. What author should illustrate their next book?
With the recent release of Vladimir Nabokov’s never-before-published and not-quite-finished novel, The Original of Laura, I thought it might be interesting to touch on the debate that was brought about because of its publication.
After having written the incredible Lolita, and some of my all-time favorite short stories, Nabokov was working on The Original of Laura at the time of his death, in 1977. With strict instructions for his yet-to-be-finished novel to be burned upon his death, the manuscript was not burned, but rather placed in his wife’s hands, and then, upon her death, passed on to his son, Dimitri. A great article on the matter was written by Ron Rosenbaum for the New York Observer back in 2005, pleading for Dimitri Nabokov to allow the manuscript to either be published or gather dust, but to never let it burn. I suggest you read the article to see just how passionate some people are in the literary world--the poor guy is at the point of panic towards the end of his article. So, I’m gathering he’s pleased now that Nabokov’s unfinished, semi-unauthorized work has finally been released.
Message boards have been filled with comments regarding the publication, and the topic was touched upon in morning news shows as well as in blogs and newspaper columns. Rosenbaum stated that Nabokov’s son, Dimitri, had a "responsibility to the literary world” to publish the “last fragments of his father’s genius."
Many questions arise from this debate: Did Dimitri really have a responsibility to publish his father’s work, despite being told not to? In Leland de la Durantaye’s Boston Review article, "Last Wishes," he writes that Vladimir Nabokov’s wife had to stop her husband from burning a draft of Lolita. Lolita! Was his son, then, afraid of a possible new masterpiece being overlooked, never to be appreciated?
With all these thoughts filling my head, I tend to get a little philosophical and start to wonder about the ethics of the situation. It’s certainly sad to think that another masterpiece could have stayed locked up in a safety-deposit box forever, but was it ok to go against Nabokov’s final request?
How much say or ownership can an author really have upon their death? And, do you think it’s ok to go against an author’s wishes for the sake of art?