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  • Total Eclipse: The lives of the poets
    Posted on Oct 14, 2020
    Just when you thought 2020 could not get any worse, some degenerate comes along and reminds you that this year marks the 25th anniversary of Total Eclipse (1995), Agnieszka Holland’s biopic about the gay antics of those morally incorrigible poetry pals, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. The good news, I suppose, is that the pandemic has put the kibosh on all those festivities planned to celebrate the anniversary: the small-town parades, the ribbon-cuttings, the school pageants featuring children with water pistols re-enacting the famous 1873 shooting in Brussels, and so on. Information on thi…
  • Rubén Darío meets his hero
    Posted on Oct 7, 2020
    History is littered with examples of people finally coming face-to-face with their heroes in person - only for their illusions to be cruelly dashed and dismantled. But can there be a sadder story than Rubén Darío’s encounter with the French symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine, in Paris in 1893? First, a word about Darío and my own personal and professional fascination with his work. Darío was the Nicaraguan poet and founder of the Spanish-language literary movement known as modernismo. He died more than a century ago, in 1916. But his influence on Spanish-language poetry remains immense. Pablo Neru…
  • The metamorphosis of Albert Mérat…
    Posted on Sep 29, 2020
    Some prominent figures in literary or musical history would have been surprised – and sometimes horrified – by their posthumous reputations. Sir Arthur Sullivan’s grand opera Ivanhoe and cantata The Golden Legend, both much lauded in their day, are now completely overshadowed by his operettas, as are the many satires and dramas written by his collaborator W. S. Gilbert. Edward Lear was one of the greatest ornithological illustrators of his age as well as an active composer (setting many of Tennyson’s poems, for example) but he is now known mainly for his nonsense verse and limericks. Similarly…
  • George Moore’s visit to Paul Verlaine in the 1880s
    Posted on Sep 23, 2020
    On 25 February 1890, the Irish writer, George Moore took readers of The Hawk magazine on a journey down the backstreets of Paris, near to the location of the old Bastille: ‘we traversed curious streets, inhabited apparently by people who in dressing never got further than camisoles and shirt sleeves; we penetrated musty-smelling and clamorous court yards, in which lingered Balzacian concièrges; we climbed slippery staircases upon which doors stood wide open, emitting odours and permitting occasional views of domestic life – a man in his shirt hammering a boot, a woman, presumably a mother, wi…
  • Ornella Volta (1927-2020)
    Posted on Sep 15, 2020
    On 17 August 2020, I learned that my friend Ornella Volta had died the day before in her Paris flat at the age of 93. Travel and quarantine restrictions sadly meant I was unable to attend her funeral, but I feel moved to write an appreciation of this truly unique woman. Ornella Volta is best known as a pioneering scholar and supporter of Erik Satie, and although she was not herself a musician, her broad curiosity for adventurous and unclassifiable artists, and her huge enthusiasm, made her a dedicated and tireless promoter of his work. Satie was a composer like no other, and also a writer o…
  • Philoctetes and the call for integrity
    Posted on Sep 8, 2020
    My first tentative experiment in the arts was at the age of 12 when I wrote a short play. This re-told the story of Philoctetes, the legendary archer who - on the way to besiege Troy - was abandoned by his fellow Greeks on the deserted island of Lemnos. Philoctetes is barely mentioned in Homer and the most famous version of the story is contained in the play bearing his name by Sophocles, first performed in Athens in around 409BC. Thankfully, perhaps, I have not retained the script of my play, and have only a vague memory of its subsequent performance (which I recall involved rowing a boat mad…
  • The Enigma of Saint-Loup’s Swansong
    Posted on Sep 1, 2020
    The French novelist Marcel Proust is famous as a lover of instrumental music, in particular Beethoven’s symphonies and string quartets. In the nineteenth century, such music was often considered ‘absolute’ or ‘pure’, in opposition to so-called programme music (music with a narrative, plot, or words). Absolute music was argued to be the best art because it was purportedly beyond language, although as critics have pointed out this assertion relied upon language to be made. Proust’s commitment to absolute music is attested in his novel by the fact that the fictional composer Vinteuil is the autho…
  • The Anti-Salomé
    Posted on Aug 25, 2020
    Decadence remains a sort of blind spot in literary history. It inherits the themes of decay and fatal heredity from naturalism whilst nurturing a care for style and a sense of abstraction akin to symbolism. It is neither a movement nor a school; it is rather a state of mind that can be retrieved under different shapes in French writing in the mid-1880s to 1900, in the aftermath of catastrophic defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, but that can also be seen as stretching right through from the 1850s to the 1920s. It is hard to imagine a closer fusion between a character and an artistic era than t…
  • Courage in a time of plague
    Posted on Aug 17, 2020
    By 1348 the city of Cambridge, sitting on the edges of the fenlands of East Anglia, had grown rich on the wool trade, one of the great engines of prosperity in Medieval Europe. Wool from East Anglia supplied the great weaving and textile industries of Flanders. The richest of all the town’s guilds was the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, its wealth reflected in a significant quantity of portable wealth, especially silver plate. However, in June 1348 the Black Death pandemic arrived in Britain. Originating in China, it spread along the trade routes to Europe and arrived in the British Isles…
  • Mind in Art: Exploring the origins of artistic creativity
    Posted on Aug 11, 2020
    An interview with the artist Hervé Constant conducted by Madelyn Freeman PANDEMIC Acrylic on canvas 50x42in Hervé Constant I am intrigued by the idea that the arts expand the ways in which we can explore human consciousness. I wanted to enquire further into where an artist finds meanings, so I contacted the artist Hervé Constant to ask about the possible sources of his creativity. In writing this piece my aim is twofold: to introduce you to the inspiration behind Hervé’s paintings and to give you a virtual tour of his studio:  MF: Hervé, what inspires you to paint? Hervé responded first…
  • The tragic deaths of Henri Regnault
    Posted on Aug 4, 2020
    As we approach the 150th anniversary of the start of the Siege of Paris in September 1870, I’ve been reading Théodore de Banville’s Idylles Prussiennes, a series of poems he wrote during the city’s four-month ordeal. The poems, which first appeared in the Parisian newspaper Le National, and were later collected in a book, have been disappointing – uninspired and repetitive in the main. But they did introduce me to a painter who was famous in his day and was then largely forgotten, only to re-emerge recently, sometimes in the strangest of modern guises. Henri Regnault has something of the allu…
  • Translating Rimbaud into Italian
    Posted on Jul 29, 2020
    Interview with Professor Adriano Marchetti by Valentina Gosetti VG: You have recently published with Pazzini Editore your translations of Rimbaud’s verse poems (Opera in versi, 2019). Coming after your Italian editions of Illuminations (2006) and Une saison en enfer (2009) for the same publishing house, this latest collection completes not only the Rimbaudian triptych, but your journey of a lifetime as a reader and scholar of Rimbaud’s œuvre. Have you adopted a different approach in the translation and editing of these three volumes or have you tried to express yourself in the same voice? …