e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “Anonymous”

Read this book and weep

The book of my title is The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly. It’s subtitle is very appropriate:

An incomplete history of all the great books you’ll never read.

The author looks back through the history of literature and tells us what is known of great lost books. The history of literature is a long one – going back to the earliest days of writing in places like Sumeria, Egypt, China – and the opportunities for even famous books to vanish are numerous.

The classical age in Europe is one of the best known, partly because the authors who have survived commented on their colleagues and predecessors who haven’t. But even the very literary Greeks and Romans produced many Mr and Mrs Anonymouses not to mention Mr Who-was-Homer?.

We leave the realm of this vagueness the nearer we approach the present. It’s interesting to read about what we haven’t got of Lord Byron, Jane Austen and other well-known people. Most of them are Westerners but Asia has its own ‘lost’ catalogue and a few chapters introduce us to it.

The last author dealt with in the book is Philip K Dick. Three of his known works have vanished. I suspect that Dick himself was responsible for this; by the 20th century he should have had access to ways of not losing things if he didn’t want to.

The works Kelly covers are just the ones we know about – how much more has turned to dust over the centuries?


‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’ really takes off

The debate over the film Anonymous and its premise that the plays were written by the Earl of Oxford, is spreading and heating up.

In a quick trawl through the web I found newspapers as far apart in space and content as the Los Angeles Times (with an article on students protesting against what they call the ‘discrediting of Shakespeare’) and the Fortean Times (with a lengthy write-up of the history of the Shakespeare Authorship Question – SAQ to those in the know) have taken the question seriously.

I had not thought that anyone outside of a few academics and the inhabitants of Stratford-upon-Avon really cared, but both articles suggest that strong feelings are being aroused in many places.

All of which demonstrates again the cultural power of film over most other art forms. It can even give The Bard himself some serious competition.

‘Anonymous’: a film directed by Roland Emmerich

So the ‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’ debate is being revisited, this time in film.

Anonymous has already raised hackles and interest, and with stars like Derek Jacobi will no doubt be successful as a film.

Whether it’ll encourage anyone to take more interest in the plays is another matter, though Emmerich hopes it will. As he told the BBC, ‘It’s a celebration of his work, and anyone who sees this film, if it encourages young people, or anyone, to revisit these plays, then it’s very important.’

Personally I don’t think it matters who actually wrote the plays. But I lean away from all brands of doubters who display the snobbish attitude that Shakespeare couldn’t be the author because he was lower class and not well educated.

How do they know? An intelligent person who has learned to read and has access to books could become very well educated on his own. ‘Good breeding’ and sitting in a classroom are not essential.

They also claim that Shakespeare did not have the personality to be a great artist. They forget that our idea of ‘artistic temperament’ was born out of the 18th century Romantic Movement. There is no such thing as an artistic type.

I’m sure that there are anti-Stratfordians who have more sensible reasons for their doubts, but they are not, apparently, celebrated in this film.

Having said all this, I shall probably go and see it. Emmerich describes it: ‘It’s a political thriller, it’s a whodunnit, and it’s a homage to theatre and to William Shakespeare’ and I love whodunnits. If I disagree with it that’s no bad thing – I enjoy wallowing in a bit of irritation from time to time.

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