Today’s post is unusual it that I was asked to write it, as opposed to coming up with the idea myself. My former student, James Knight, asked me to celebrate Jan Potocki on his birthday, so here is my effort James. I will confess that I am mostly flying in the dark. At minimum I expect a comment in the comment section below !!
Count Jan Potocki, nascent ethnologist, traveler, Polish nobleman, captain of army engineers, Egyptologist, linguist, adventurer and popular author, was born on this date in 1761. Potocki is not exactly a household name outside of Poland. If he is known at all it is chiefly for his novel, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. A complex work that is somewhat comparable to Arabian Nights or Decameron. The book is unusual in that the original French version is lost and has had to be reconstructed by back translation from a Polish language translation made after his death. Almost sounds like a Borges novel. In recent years the French edition has been supplemented by early drafts in French found in manuscript collections of his heirs. There are now two French versions because Potocki revised his ideas several times over the years that he was constructing the novel, hence the tone of the two versions is quite different.
Potocki was born into an aristocratic family, that owned vast estates across Poland. He was educated in Geneva and Lausanne, served twice in the Polish Army as a captain of engineers, and spent some time on a galley as novice to the Knights of Malta. He journeyed across Europe, Asia and North Africa, where he got involved in political intrigues, and secret societies, and contributed to the birth of ethnology with his travel diaries. He also investigated the precursors of the Slavic peoples from a linguistic and historical standpoint.
Potocki married twice and had five children. His first marriage ended in divorce, and both marriages were the subject of scandalous rumors. In 1812, disillusioned and in poor health, he retired to his estate at Uładówka in Podolia, suffering from “melancholia” (which today would probably be diagnosed as depression), and during the last few years of his life he completed his novel. Believing he was becoming a werewolf, Potocki committed suicide by fatally shooting himself with a silver bullet that he had blessed by his village priest in December 1815, at the age of 54.
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is a collection of intertwining stories, set in whole or in part in Spain, with a large and colorful cast of gypsies, thieves, inquisitors, a cabbalist, a geometer, the cabbalist’s beautiful sister, two Moorish princesses (Emina and Zubeida) and others. The book’s outer frame tale is narrated by an unnamed French officer who describes his fortuitous discovery of an intriguing Spanish manuscript during the sack of Zaragoza in 1809, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Soon afterwards the French officer is captured by the Spanish and stripped of his possessions. But a Spanish officer recognizes the manuscript’s importance, and during the French officer’s captivity the Spaniard translates it for him into French. The manuscript has been written by a young officer of the Walloon Guard, Alphonse van Worden. In 1739, while en route to Madrid to serve with the Spanish Army, he is diverted into Spain’s rugged Sierra Morena region. There, over a period of sixty-six days, he encounters a varied group of characters who tell him an intertwining series of bizarre, amusing and fantastic tales which he records in his diary.
The bulk of the stories revolve around the gypsy chief Avadoro, whose story becomes a frame story itself. Eventually the narrative focus moves again toward van Worden’s frame story and a conspiracy involving an underground — or perhaps entirely hallucinated — Muslim society, revealing the connections and correspondences between the hundred or so stories told over the novel’s sixty-six days.
The stories cover a wide range of genres and subjects, including the gothic, the picaresque, the erotic, the historical, the moral and the philosophic; and as a whole, the novel reflects Potocki’s far-ranging interests, especially his deep fascination with secret societies, the supernatural and Oriental cultures. The novel’s stories-within-stories sometimes reach several levels of depth, and characters and themes — a few prominent themes being honor, disguise, metamorphosis and conspiracy — recur and change shape throughout.
The national dish of Poland is bigos and I gave a decent commentary and recipe here when celebrating another Pole with a French connexion: Marie Curie — http://www.bookofdaystales.com/marie-curie/ Another great Polish soup/stew is flaki or flaczky which gives me the opportunity to indulge my tripe obsession. Modern Poles who don’t care for tripe substitute chicken or rabbit, which I consider intolerably craven. The main seasoning is marjoram, which is an underused herb in most parts these days. You really need to use it fresh for maximum flavor. It’s hard to find fresh in stores, but easy to grow.
1 lb parboiled tripe, cut into 1½-inch by ¼-inch pieces
1 meaty beef shank
1 stalk celery, chopped small
1 cup chopped leeks (white parts only)
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of marjoram, leaves only
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups beef stock or use canned
½ teaspoon allspice
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp paprika
In a heavy 8- to 10-quart soup pot place the tripe, beef shank, celery, leek, garlic, bay leaves, freshly ground black pepper to taste, beef stock, and water. Simmer partially covered for about 1 to 2 hours. The time depends on how soft you want the tripe.
Remove the beef shank and chop the meat. Discard the bone and return the meat to the pot.
Add the marjoram, tomato paste, and salt to taste. Simmer for an additional ½ hour, covered.
Prepare a roux by melting the butter in a small frying pan and stirring in the flour and paprika. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the roux is light brown. Whisk the roux into the pot a small piece at a time and continue to simmer until the flaki thickens.
Today is the birthday (1940) of Philip David “Phil” Ochs, a US protest singer (or, as he preferred, a topical singer) and songwriter who was known for his sharp wit, sardonic humor, earnest humanism, political activism, insightful and alliterative lyrics, and distinctive voice. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and 1970s and released eight albums. Ochs is not remembered much these days and was never as important in the UK where I was living through most of the Vietnam War as he was in the US, where he was definitely a major voice for protest. People like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez captured (and continue to capture) more of the spotlight, but for my money Ochs was a more heartfelt voice of protest, and – on this day at least – he deserves not to be forgotten.
Ochs performed at many political events during the 1960s counterculture era, including anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies, student events, and organized labor events over the course of his career, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as New York City’s Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. Politically, Ochs described himself as a “left social democrat” who became an “early revolutionary” after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to a police riot.
I’ll begin with, arguably, his best known protest song. That is, if it is remembered at all.
Where is this voice now?
Phil Ochs was born in El Paso, Texas, to Jacob “Jack” Ochs, a physician who was born in New York and Gertrude Phin Ochs, who was born in Scotland. Jack, drafted into the army, was sent overseas near the end of World War II, where he treated soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge. His war experiences affected his mental health and he received an honorable medical discharge in November 1945. Suffering from bipolar disorder and depression on his return home, Jack was unable to establish a successful medical practice and instead worked at a series of hospitals around the country. As a result, the Ochs family moved frequently: to Far Rockaway, New York, when Ochs was a teenager; then to Perrysburg in western New York, where he first studied music; and then to Columbus, Ohio.
As a teenager, Ochs was recognized as a talented clarinet player; in an evaluation, one music instructor wrote: “You have exceptional musical feeling and the ability to transfer it on your instrument is abundant.” His musical skills led him to play clarinet with the orchestra at the Capital University Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where he rose to the status of principal soloist before he was 16. Although Ochs played classical music, he was interested in all manner of styles from Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. He also developed an interest in movie rebels, including Marlon Brando and James Dean.
From 1956 to 1958, Ochs was a student at the Staunton Military Academy in rural Virginia, and when he graduated he returned to Columbus and enrolled at Ohio State University. After his first quarter he took a leave of absence and went to Florida. While in Miami, Ochs was jailed for two weeks for sleeping on a park bench, an incident he would later recall:
Somewhere during the course of those fifteen days I decided to become a writer. My primary thought was journalism … so in a flash I decided — I’ll be a writer and a major in journalism.
Ochs returned to Ohio State to study journalism and developed an interest in politics, with a particular interest in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. At Ohio State he met Jim Glover, a fellow student who was a devotee of what was called “folk” music. [Hint: Dylan, Baez, Seeger et al are not folk singers]. Glover introduced Ochs to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and The Weavers. Glover taught Ochs how to play guitar, and they debated politics. Ochs began writing newspaper articles, often on radical themes. When the student paper refused to publish some of his more radical articles, he started his own underground newspaper called The Word. His two main interests, politics and music, soon merged, and Ochs began writing topical political songs. Ochs and Glover formed a duet called “The Singing Socialists,” later renamed “The Sundowners,” but the duo broke up before their first professional performance and Glover went to New York City to become solo singer.
Ochs started performing professionally at a local club called Farragher’s Back Room and was the opening act for a number of musicians in the summer of 1961, including the Smothers Brothers. Ochs continued at Ohio State into his senior year, but dropped out in his last quarter without graduating. Instead he followed Glover to New York.
Ochs arrived in New York City in 1962 and began performing in numerous small nightclubs, eventually becoming an integral part of the Greenwich Village music scene. He emerged as an unpolished but passionate vocalist who wrote pointed songs about current events: war, civil rights, labor struggles and other topics.
Ochs described himself as a “singing journalist” saying he built his songs from stories he read in Newsweek. By the summer of 1963 he was sufficiently well known in folk circles to be invited to sing at the Newport Folk Festival, where he performed “Too Many Martyrs” (co-written with Bob Gibson), “Talking Birmingham Jam”, and “Power and the Glory”—his patriotic Guthrie-esque anthem that brought the audience to its feet. Ochs’s return appearance at Newport in 1964, when he performed “Draft Dodger Rag” and other songs, was widely praised. But he was not invited to appear in 1965.
Ochs recorded his first three albums for Elektra Records: All the News That’s Fit to Sing (1964), I Ain’t Marching Anymore (1965), and Phil Ochs in Concert (1966). On these records, Ochs was accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The albums contain many of Ochs’s topical songs, such as “Too Many Martyrs”, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”, and “Draft Dodger Rag”; and some musical reinterpretation of older poetry, such as “The Highwayman” (poem by Alfred Noyes) and “The Bells” (poem by Edgar Allan Poe). Phil Ochs in Concert includes some more introspective songs, such as “Changes” and “When I’m Gone.”
During the early period of his career, Ochs and Bob Dylan had a friendly rivalry. Dylan said of Ochs, “I just can’t keep up with Phil. And he just keeps getting better and better and better.” On another occasion, when Ochs criticized “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” Dylan threw him out of his limousine, saying, “You’re not a folksinger. You’re a journalist.”
Ochs deeply admired President John F. Kennedy, even though he disagreed with the president on issues such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the growing involvement of the United States in the Vietnamese civil war. When Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Ochs told his wife that he thought he was going to die that night.
In 1967, Ochs left Elektra for A&M Records and moved to Los Angeles. He recorded four studio albums for A&M: Pleasures of the Harbor (1967), Tape from California (1968), Rehearsals for Retirement (1969), and the ironically titled Greatest Hits (1970) (which actually consisted of all new material). For his A&M albums, Ochs moved away from simply produced solo acoustic guitar performances and experimented with ensemble and even orchestral instrumentation, “baroque-folk,” in the hopes of producing a pop-folk hybrid that would be a hit.
None of Ochs’s songs became hits, although “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” received a good deal of airplay. It reached #119 on Billboard’s national “Hot Prospect” listing before being pulled from some radio stations because of its lyrics, which sarcastically suggested that “smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer.” It was the closest Ochs ever came to the Top 40. Joan Baez, however, did have a Top Ten hit in the U.K. in August 1965, reaching #8 with her cover of Ochs’s song “There but for Fortune” which was also nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Folk Recording”. In the U.S. it peaked at #50 on the Billboard charts—a good showing, but not a hit.
A lifelong movie fan, Ochs worked the narratives of justice and rebellion that he had seen in films into his music, describing some of his songs as “cinematic.” He was disappointed and bitter when his onetime hero John Wayne embraced the Vietnam War with what Ochs saw as the blind patriotism of Wayne’s 1968 film, The Green Berets:
Here we have John Wayne, who was a major artistic and psychological figure on the American scene, … who at one point used to make movies of soldiers who had a certain validity, … a certain sense of honor [about] what the soldier was doing…. Even if it was a cavalry movie doing a historically dishonorable thing to the Indians, even as there was a feeling of what it meant to be a man, what it meant to have some sense of duty…. Now today we have the same actor making his new war movie in a war so hopelessly corrupt that, without seeing the movie, I’m sure it is perfectly safe to say that it will be an almost technically-robot-view of soldiery, just by definition of how the whole country has deteriorated. And I think it would make a very interesting double feature to show a good old Wayne movie like, say, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with The Green Berets. Because that would make a very striking comment on what has happened to America in general.
Ochs was involved in the creation of the Youth International Party, known as the Yippies, along with Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Stew Albert, and Paul Krassner. At the same time, Ochs actively supported Eugene McCarthy’s more mainstream bid for the 1968 Democratic nomination for President, a position at odds with the more radical Yippie point of view. Still, Ochs helped plan the Yippies’ “Festival of Life” which was to take place at the 1968 Democratic National Convention along with demonstrations by other anti-war groups including the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Despite warnings that there might be trouble, Ochs went to Chicago both as a guest of the McCarthy campaign and to participate in the demonstrations. He performed in Lincoln Park, Grant Park, and at the Chicago Coliseum, witnessed the violence perpetrated by the Chicago police against the protesters, and was himself arrested at one point.
The events of 1968—the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the police riot in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon—left Ochs feeling disillusioned and depressed. The cover of his 1969 album Rehearsals for Retirement eerily portrays his tombstone.
At the trial of the Chicago Seven in December 1969, Ochs testified for the defense. His testimony included his recitation of the lyrics to his song “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”. On his way out of the courthouse, Ochs sang the song for the press corps; to Ochs’s amusement, his singing was broadcast that evening by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News.
In August 1971, Ochs went to Chile, where Marxist Salvador Allende had been democratically elected in the 1970 election. There he met Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara, an Allende supporter, and the two became friends. In October, Ochs left Chile to visit Argentina. Later that month, after singing at a political rally in Uruguay, he and his American traveling companion David Ifshin were arrested and detained overnight. When the two returned to Argentina, they were arrested as they got off the plane. After a brief stay in an Argentine prison, Ochs and Ifshin were sent to Bolivia via a commercial airliner where authorities were to detain them. Ifshin had previously been warned by Argentine leftist friends that when the authorities sent dissidents to Bolivia, they would disappear forever. When the airliner arrived in Bolivia, the American captain of the Braniff International Airways aircraft allowed Ochs and Ifshin to stay on the aircraft, and barred Bolivian authorities from entering. The aircraft then flew to Peru where the two disembarked and they were not detained. Fearful that Peruvian authorities might arrest him, Ochs returned to the United States a few days later.
Ochs was personally invited by John Lennon to sing at a large benefit at the University of Michigan in December 1971 on behalf of John Sinclair, an activist poet who had been arrested on minor drug charges and given a severe sentence. Ochs performed at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally along with Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, David Peel, Abbie Hoffman and many others. The rally culminated with Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were making their first public performance in the United States since the breakup of The Beatles.
Although the 1968 election had left him deeply disillusioned, Ochs continued to work for the election campaigns of anti-war candidates, such as George McGovern’s unsuccessful Presidential bid in 1972. In mid-1972, he went to Australia and New Zealand. He traveled to Africa in 1973, where he visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. One night, Ochs was attacked and strangled by robbers in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which damaged his vocal cords, causing a loss of the top three notes in his vocal range. The attack also exacerbated his growing mental problems, and he became increasingly paranoid. Ochs believed the attack may have been arranged by government agents—perhaps the CIA. Still, he continued his trip, even recording a single in Kenya, “Bwatue.”
The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. Ochs planned a final “War Is Over” rally, which was held in New York’s Central Park on May 11. More than 100,000 people came to hear Ochs, joined by Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Pete Seeger and others. Ochs and Joan Baez sang a duet of “There but for Fortune” and he closed with his song “The War Is Over.”
Ochs became increasingly erratic. In mid-1975, Ochs took on the identity of John Butler Train. He told people that Train had murdered Ochs, and that he, John Butler Train, had replaced him. Train was convinced that someone was trying to kill him, so he carried a weapon at all times: a hammer, a knife, or a lead pipe. Unable to pay his rent, he began living on the streets. After several months, the Train persona faded and Ochs returned, but he continued drinking heavily and talking of suicide.
In January 1976, Ochs moved to Far Rockaway, New York, to live with his sister Sonny. He was lethargic; his only activities were watching television and playing cards with his nephews. Ochs saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed his bipolar disorder. He was prescribed medication, and he told his sister he was taking it. On April 9, 1976, Ochs committed suicide by hanging himself in his sister’s home.
Years after his death, it was revealed that the FBI had a file of nearly 500 pages on Ochs. Much of the information in those files relates to his association with counterculture figures, protest organizers, musicians, and other people described by the FBI as “subversive.” The FBI was often sloppy in collecting information on Ochs: his name was frequently misspelled “Oakes” in their files, and they continued to consider him “potentially dangerous” after his death.
Congresswoman Bella Abzug (D. New York), an outspoken anti-war activist herself who had appeared at the 1975 “War is Over” rally, entered this statement into the Congressional Record on April 29, 1976:
Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, a young folksinger whose music personified the protest mood of the 1960s took his own life. Phil Ochs—whose original compositions were compelling moral statements against war in Southeast Asia—apparently felt that he had run out of words.
While his tragic action was undoubtedly motivated by terrible personal despair, his death is a political as well as an artistic tragedy. I believe it is indicative of the despair many of the activists of the 1960s are experiencing as they perceive a government which continues the distortion of national priorities that is exemplified in the military budget we have before us.
Phil Ochs’ poetic pronouncements were part of a larger effort to galvanize his generation into taking action to prevent war, racism, and poverty. He left us a legacy of important songs that continue to be relevant in 1976—even though “the war is over”.
Just one year ago—during this week of the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War—Phil recruited entertainers to appear at the “War is Over” celebration in Central Park, at which I spoke.
It seems particularly appropriate that this week we should commemorate the contributions of this extraordinary young man.
When I think of Ochs these days I think of the 60s. I think of his humanism, dedication, and faith along with his wit and sarcasm. In tribute I present this classic taste of the 1960s with my own hint of irony – Lipton Onion Soup dip. This was a perennial favorite at parties because it was easy to make and generally enjoyed – I guess. No need for more than the most rudimentary of recipes. You’ll need 1 envelope of Lipton® Recipe Secrets® Onion Soup Mix and 16 ounces of sour cream. Whip the two together and refrigerate for an hour or so. Serve with your favorite chips or raw vegetables.
Today is the birthday (1882) of Adeline Virginia Woolf (née Stephen), an English writer who was one of the foremost modernists of the early 20th century. During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a central figure in the influential Bloomsbury Group. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Woolf was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household. Her parents had each been married previously and been widowed, and, consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages. Her mother, Julia, had three children by her first husband, Herbert Duckworth: George, Stella, and Gerald Duckworth. Her father, Leslie Stephen, had first married Harriet Marian (Minny) Thackeray (1840–1875), the daughter of William Thackeray, and they had one daughter: Laura Makepeace Stephen, who was declared mentally disabled and lived with the family until she was institutionalized in 1891. Leslie and Julia had four children together: Vanessa (later known as Vanessa Bell) (1879), Thoby (1880), Virginia (1882), and Adrian (1883).
Leslie Stephen’s eminence as an editor, critic, and biographer, and his connection to William Thackeray, meant that his children were raised in an environment filled with the influences of Victorian literary society. Henry James, George Henry Lewes, and Virginia’s honorary godfather, James Russell Lowell, were among the visitors to the house. Julia Stephen was equally well connected. She came from a family of beauties who left their mark on Victorian society as models for Pre-Raphaelite artists and early photographers, including her aunt Julia Margaret Cameron who was also a visitor to the Stephen household. Supplementing these influences was the immense library at the Stephens’ house, from which Virginia and Vanessa were taught the classics and English literature. Unlike the girls, their brothers Adrian and Julian (Thoby) were formally educated and sent to Cambridge, a difference that Virginia would resent. The sisters did, however, benefit indirectly from their brothers’ Cambridge contacts, as the boys often brought their new intellectual friends home.
According to Woolf’s memoirs, her most vivid childhood memories were not of London but of St Ives, Cornwall, where the family spent every summer until 1895. The Stephens’ summer home, Talland House, looked out over Porthminster Bay, and is still standing, though somewhat altered. Memories of these family holidays and impressions of the landscape, especially the Godrevy Lighthouse, informed the fiction Woolf wrote in later years, most notably To the Lighthouse.
The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half-sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. She was, however, able to take courses of study (some at degree level) in Ancient Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. This brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women’s higher education such as the principal of the Ladies’ Department, Lilian Faithfull (one of the so-called Steamboat ladies), Clara Pater (sister of the more famous Walter, George Warr. Her sister Vanessa also studied Latin, Italian, art and architecture at King’s Ladies’ Department.
The death of her father in 1904 provoked a serious mental crisis and she was briefly institutionalized. Modern scholars (including her nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell) have suggested her breakdowns and subsequent recurring depressive periods were influenced by the sexual abuse to which she and her sister Vanessa were subjected by their half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth (which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate).
Throughout her life, Woolf was plagued by periodic mood swings and associated illnesses. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, 15 Cambridge Park, Twickenham, described as “a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder.” Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.
After the death of their father and Virginia’s second nervous breakdown, Vanessa and Adrian sold 22 Hyde Park Gate and bought a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. Woolf came to know Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Rupert Brooke, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, David Garnett, and Roger Fry, who together formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle of writers and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group. In 1907 Vanessa married Clive Bell, and the couple’s interest in modern art had an important influence on Woolf’s development as an author.
Virginia married the writer Leonard Woolf on 10 August 1912. Despite his low material status (Woolf referring to Leonard during their engagement as a “penniless Jew”) the couple shared a close bond. She wrote at the time:
First he is a Jew; second he is 31; third, he spent 7 years in Ceylon, governing natives, inventing ploughs, shooting tigers, and did so well that they offered him a very high place, which he refused, wishing to marry me, and gave up his entire career there on the chance that I would agree. He has no money of his own… but from the first I have found him the one person to talk to.
We analyse each other’s idiosyncrasies in the light of psycho-analysis walking round the square. My reports, however, are apt to twist up into balls what is really amicable, serious, disinterested, and almost wholly affectionate. It’s true that Leonard sees my faults.
The two also collaborated professionally, in 1917 founding the Hogarth Press, which subsequently published Virginia’s novels along with works by T. S. Eliot, Laurens van der Post, and translations of Freud’s works. The Press also commissioned works by contemporary artists, including Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell.
The ethos of the Bloomsbury group encouraged a liberal approach to sexuality, and in 1922 Virginia met the writer and landscape gardener Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson. After a tentative start, they began a sexual relationship, which, according to Sackville-West in a letter to her husband dated August 17, 1926, was only twice consummated. However, Virginia’s intimacy with Vita seems to have continued into the early 1930s. In 1928, Woolf presented Sackville-West with Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the eponymous hero’s life spans three centuries and both sexes. Nigel Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West’s son, wrote, “The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.”
Woolf began writing professionally in 1900, initially for the Times Literary Supplement with a journalistic piece about Haworth, home of the Brontë family. Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915 by her half-brother’s imprint, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. Woolf went on to publish novels and essays to both critical and popular success. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press, because she struggled dealing with external criticism and rejection.
Woolf is considered a major innovator in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream of consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters. Woolf’s reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her importance was re-established with the growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s.
Here’s the only known recording of Woolf talking about the art of writing and language:
I taught Woolf for about 10 years as part of a general course for freshmen. To The Lighthouse was required reading for all first year students in the spring semester. I never felt I could do much with the text for a whole host of reasons. The Freudian/Oedipal theme between James and Mr Ramsay that runs through the entire novel seems heavy handed nowadays, although when the book was first published I expect it was novel and engaging.
I do grasp the idea that by using a stream-of-consciousness writing style Woolf was trying to paint a picture of what a day in the life of the Ramsays and entourage in their summer house was like, and I find it well enough done for what it is. Obviously the whole scene is heavily autobiographical; Woolf could well be describing a summer in St Ives with her family and their glitterati friends in the 1920s. The reason I find it well enough done is that I find the writing about the events as tiresome as I would have found the events themselves. Sitting around day after day reading or discussing “good” literature with a bunch of rich and “important” people, would drive me up the wall.
Therein lies the heart of the problem for me. Woolf was brought up in, and lived among, the privileged of England’s society. Their interests and problems are not mine. I am, however, sympathetic to Woolf’s mental illness. People very close to me have suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, so I know the details intimately. Just before she weighted herself down with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse she wrote this gut-wrenching note to Leonard:
I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.
I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.
These sentiments are soul searing. Trying to convey their meaning to 18 year olds in New York in the 1980s was impossible.
The final chapters of the first part of To the Lighthouse describe a formal dinner party which Mrs Ramsay hosts. The soup course is of particular concern for many reasons. The full text of the book is here if you want to delve the mysteries of Mrs Ramsay and her ladling of the soup: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100101.txt There is no mention of what kind of soup it is, nor any other details about the meal, only that the soup was worth seconds for one guest – and that caused a stir. So here’s a soup that was popular at the time, Royal Cheddar Cheese Soup.
Royal Cheddar Cheese Soup
1 tablespoon butter
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
6 cups chicken stock
½ tsp dry English mustard
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
½ tsp hot pepper sauce
3 tbsp minced chives
Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy pan. Add the onions, potatoes, and garlic and sauté 10 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.
Using a food processor or blender purée the stock and vegetables .
Whisk together the dry mustard and heavy cream in the pan over medium heat. Then add back the purée and heat through, stirring to avoid sticking.
Stir in the cheese and hot sauce and keep stirring until the cheese has melted.
Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with some chives.
Today is the birthday (1858) of Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini, Italian composer whose operas are generally seen as standards. While his early work was rooted in traditional late-19th-century romantic Italian opera, he successfully developed his work in the realistic verismo style, of which he became one of the leading exponents.
Puccini was born Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini in Lucca in Tuscany. He was one of nine children of Michele Puccini and Albina Magi. The Puccini family was established in Lucca as a local musical dynasty by Puccini’s great-great grandfather – also named Giacomo (1712–1781). This first Giacomo Puccini was maestro di cappella of the Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca. He was succeeded in this position by his son, Antonio Puccini, and then by Antonio’s son Domenico, and Domenico’s son Michele (father of the subject of this article). Each of these men studied music at Bologna, and some took additional musical studies elsewhere. Domenico Puccini studied for a time under Giovanni Paisiello. Each composed music for the church. In addition, Domenico composed several operas, and Michele composed one opera. Puccini’s father Michele enjoyed a reputation throughout northern Italy, and his funeral was an occasion of public mourning, at which the then-famed composer Giovanni Pacini conducted a Requiem.
With the Puccini family having occupied the position of maestro di cappella for 124 years (1740–1864) by the time of Michele’s death, it was anticipated that Michele’s son Giacomo would occupy that position as well when he was old enough. However, when Michele Puccini died in 1864, his son Giacomo was only six years old, and thus not capable of taking over his father’s job. As a child, he nevertheless participated in the musical life of the Cattedrale di San Martino, as a member of the boys’ choir and later as a substitute organist.
Puccini was given a general education at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca, and then at the seminary of the cathedral. One of Puccini’s uncles, Fortunato Magi, supervised his musical education. Puccini got a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in Lucca in 1880, having studied there with his uncle Fortunato, and later with Carlo Angeloni, who had also instructed Alfredo Catalani. A grant from the Italian Queen Margherita, and assistance from another uncle, Nicholas Cerù, provided the funds necessary for Puccini to continue his studies at the Milan Conservatory, where he studied composition with Stefano Ronchetti-Monteviti, Amilcare Ponchielli, and Antonio Bazzini. Puccini studied at the conservatory for three years. In 1880, at the age of 21, Puccini composed his Mass, which marks the culmination of his family’s long association with church music in his native Lucca.
Puccini wrote an orchestral piece called the Capriccio sinfonica as a thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory. Puccini’s teachers Ponchielli and Bazzini were impressed by the work, and it was performed at a student concert at the conservatory. Puccini’s work was favorably reviewed in the Milanese publication Perseveranza, and thus Puccini began to build a reputation as a young composer of promise in Milanese music circles.
To run through Puccini’s life and career would, I fear, be otiose; his operas have lasting fame and popularity. Rather, I will take a somewhat quirky personal glimpse at Turandot, an enduring favorite with audiences, not least because of the 3rd act climactic aria nessun dorma, which has become the quintessence of classic operatic tenor mode – rather overdone these days.
I’ll start with a quote from a critic, just to underscore my dislike for the breed. Michael Tanner writes in The Spectator in 2013:
Turandot is an irredeemable work, a terrible end to a career that had included three indisputable masterpieces and three less evident ones, counting Il Trittico as one. Any operatic composer who gets to the stage, as Puccini had, of searching through one play or novel after another, dissatisfied with any subject he is offered, should almost certainly give up.
This very much reminds me of Joseph Kerman who said, “Nobody would deny that dramatic potential can be found in this tale. Puccini, however, did not find it; his music does nothing to rationalize the legend or illuminate the characters,” and “while Turandot is more suave musically than Tosca, dramatically it is a good deal more depraved.” Hurrah for Sir Thomas Beecham who once remarked that anything that Joseph Kerman said about Puccini “can safely be ignored.”
I’m not going to claim that Turandot is perfect: it is not. But it is musically more challenging than most of Puccini’s other works, and the tale itself is much darker and more profound than the critics allow. Though Puccini’s first interest in the subject was based on his reading of Friedrich Schiller’s 1801 play, Turandot, Puccini’s work is more closely based on the earlier text Turandot by Carlo Gozzi. The original story of Turan-Dokht (daughter of Turan) comes from the epic Haft Peykar (The Seven Beauties), the work of 12th-century Persian poet Nizami. The opera’s story, however, is set in China and involves Prince Calaf, who falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death. Calaf passes the test, but Turandot still refuses to marry him. He offers her a way out: if she is able to learn his name before dawn the next day, then at daybreak he will die.
The opera was unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death in 1924, and was completed by Franco Alfano in 1926. The first performance was held at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 25 April 1926 and conducted by Arturo Toscanini. This performance included only Puccini’s music and not Alfano’s additions. As tribute to Puccini, Toscanini laid down his baton at the end of Puccini’s composition, and the first performance of the opera as completed by Alfano came the following night, 26 April. A newspaper report published the day before the premiere states that Puccini himself gave Toscanini the suggestion to stop the opera performance at the final notes composed by Puccini:
A few weeks before his death, after having made Toscanini listen to the opera, Puccini exclaimed: “If I don’t succeed in finishing it, at this point someone will come to the footlights and will say: ‘The author composed until here, and then he died.'” Arturo Toscanini related Puccini’s words with great emotion, and, with the swift agreement of Puccini’s family and the publishers, decided that the evening of the first performance, the opera would appear as the author left it, with the anguish of being unable to finish.
Puccini and Toscanini
The opera is, indeed, anguished in theme – and continues so in its performance history.
Act 3 troubles the critics a great deal, and, sadly, many reduce it to a kind of hormonal muddle instead of the climax of a complex tale, entwined with Puccini’s own life. If you don’t know the tale you’ll have to look it up – sorry. The first component that worries the critics is the torture and death of the slave girl Liù, who kills herself rather than reveal the prince’s name under Turandot’s brutal treatment. Many critics find this subplot needlessly callous. But this component may well be tangentially related to Puccini’s life. In 1909, Puccini’s wife Elvira publicly accused Doria Manfredi, a maid working for the Puccini family, of having an affair with the composer. After being publicly accused of adultery, Doria Manfredi committed suicide. An autopsy determined, however, that Doria had died a virgin, refuting the allegations made against her. Elvira Puccini was prosecuted for slander, and was sentenced to more than five months in prison, although a payment to the Manfredi family by Puccini spared Elvira from having to serve the sentence. Puccini was certainly a philanderer, but in this case he was innocent. Yet he still thought of himself as the indirect cause of Doria’s death – partly because Elvira’s accusations were fair, but misdirected.
Act 3 is somewhat disjointed perhaps because Puccini was not able to finish it as he intended, and Alfano’s work, though based on Puccini’s sketches may not rise to the challenges of a complex ending. Alfano picks up the story after Liù’s death with Calaf’s rough attempt to seduce Turandot followed by him revealing his name, thus giving her the choice to love him in return or execute him. Eventually her icy heart melts and she admits that she knows his true name – it is “Love.” The critics tend to laugh off the ending as hormones at work, but I disagree. Calaf shows his honor by giving Turandot a way out, even though he has answered her riddles, and when she fails to guess his name, tells her flat out, proving that he would rather die than not be loved by her in return. Turandot, for her part, confesses that her iciness and hardness of heart towards Calaf, are components of her passionate heart, the reverse side of which is love. She might as well have had Freud speak her words for her. It’s really not Puccini’s fault if the critics can’t see the richness.
There’s also a certain oddity in setting Turandot in China because it’s really a Persian tale that had run through the hands of French, German, and Italian interpreters before Puccini used it. Nonetheless Puccini made some inspired compositional choices in using Chinese melodies for certain themes. The classic case is his use of the 18th century song 茉莉花 (“Jasmine Flower”), sung here by Song Zuying:
Here it is in La sui monti:
For most of the 20th century, for one reason or another, Turandot was not performed in China, and yet now is regaled as the national opera. Some critics claim it was banned by the People’s Republic because it cast China in a bad light. They don’t know what they are talking about, as usual. Things are never that simple in China. True, it did not see the light of day in China until the 1990’s, but this was not because of an outright ban, but because successive applications to produce it were turned down, each time for a different reason. Sure there was a sense that the opera was unfair to “modern” China underneath it all, but various influential Chinese also objected to the brutality, sexuality, and so forth. A 2008 production in Beijing marked Puccini’s 150th birthday, featuring a new ending written by Hao Weiya, based on Puccini’s sketches. It departs from Alfano’s ending chiefly in making Turandot’s change of heart a direct consequence of Liù’s suicide rather than of Calaf’s ardor – much more in keeping with Chinese sentiment.
Nessun dorma got a huge boost when Luciano Pavarotti’s recording became the theme song of the 1990 FIFA world cup in Italy. Here is a youthful Pavarotti onstage:
Puccini’s native Lucca is home to a well known cuisine. Here is a lucchese rabbit stew with olives. Italians routinely have pasta as a first course and meat dishes, such as this one, as a second course. So you can serve it with crusty bread. I’ll leave you to it as to quantities.
Coniglio con le olive alla lucchese
1 rabbit, cut in 8 pieces
2 (or more) shallots, peeled and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
Italian black olives
juice of a lemon
Sauté the shallots in a heavy skillet in olive oil until they are translucent. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside.
Brown the rabbit pieces in the olive oil on all sides, over high heat. Return the shallots and add white wine to cover, plus lemon juice, nutmeg (freshly grated if possible), and olives. I sometimes add in grated lemon zest for an extra punch. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered for about 35-40 minutes. During this time the sauce should reduce and thicken. Add more wine if it gets too dry.