Colm Tóibín is Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia. His latest book is the novel House of Names. (October 2018)

IN THE REVIEW

The Aristocracy’s Swann Song

Élisabeth Greffulhe in her ‘swan’ persona; photograph by Otto Wegener, circa 1887

Proust’s Duchess: How Three Celebrated Women Captured the Imagination of Fin-de-Siècle Paris

by Caroline Weber
In June 1885 Henry James received a letter from John Singer Sargent in Paris asking him to see two friends of his who were coming to London. One was Dr. Samuel Pozzi, whom Sargent had painted in a red dressing gown in 1881, “a very brilliant creature”; the other, Sargent …

Desolation Row

Federico García Lorca, date unknown

Poet in Spain

by Federico García Lorca, translated from the Spanish by Sarah Arvio
Lorca’s early poems are filled with elemental things, like a Miró painting—night, star, moon, bird—but they come with edges of strangeness and menace, like a Dalí painting—clock, knife, death, dream. He is never interested in just describing a scene. Instead, he begins to work on a set of associations, using echoes in the patterns of sound and sometimes a strict metrical form as undercurrent, thus suggesting a sort of ease or comfort at the root of the poem so that the branches can grow in any direction, with much grafting and sudden shifts, as his mind, in free flow, throws up phrases that, however unlikely, he allows in, thus extending the reach of the poem, or at other times pruning it briskly back.

The Heart of Conrad

Joseph Conrad arriving in New York on the SS Tuscania, 1923

The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World

by Maya Jasanoff
Joseph Conrad’s heroes were often alone, and close to hostility and danger. Sometimes, when Conrad’s imagination was at its most fertile and his command of English at its most precise, the danger came darkly from within the self. At other times, however, it came from what could not be named. Conrad sought then to evoke rather than delineate, using something close to the language of prayer. While his imagination was content at times with the tiny, vivid, perfectly observed detail, it was also nourished by the need to suggest and symbolize. Like a poet, he often left the space in between strangely, alluringly vacant.

The Class Renegade

The End of Eddy

by Édouard Louis, translated from the French by Michael Lucey
Those of us who move from the provinces pay a toll at the city’s gate, a toll that is doubled in the years that follow as we try to find a balance between what was so briskly discarded and what was so carefully, hesitantly, slyly put in its place. More than thirty years ago, when I was in Egypt, I met a cultivated English couple who invited me to stay in their house in London on my way back to Ireland. They could not have been more charming. The only problem was that they had an Irish maid who, as soon as I arrived as their guest, began to talk to me in the unvarnished accent of home, as though she had known me all of her life.

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Gawking at Quixote

François de Poilly the Younger after Charles Coypel: Don Quixote Mistakes Puppets for Moors and Believes He Is Rescuing Two Runaway Lovers, 1723 (click images to enlarge)

The artist Charles Coypel’s images of Don Quixote are so dramatic in their visual scope and use of space and color and contrast that they must have been a gift to both engravers and tapestry-makers. As much as Cervantes, he could work wonders with chance, mayhem, indignity, happenstance, and misadventure, and there is a sense of him as being a genuine kindred spirit with the novelist.

Goya: Order and Disorder

Francisco Goya: Self-Portrait While Painting, circa 1795

“There are two ways, perhaps, of looking at Francisco Goya,” writes Colm Tóibín in the Review’s December 18, 2014 issue. In the first version, Goya, who was born near Zaragoza in 1746 and died in exile in France in 1828, “was almost innocent, a serious and ambitious artist interested in mortality and beauty, but also playful and mischievous, until politics and history darkened his imagination…. In the second version, it is as though a war was going on within Goya’s psyche from the very start…. His imagination was ripe for horror.” Here we present a series of prints and paintings from the show under review—the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s “Goya: Order and Disorder,” now closed—along with commentary on the images drawn from Tóibín’s piece.

The Sweet Troubles of Proust

Proust’s handwriting is bad; it is the handwriting of a novelist rather than a dandy, and visitors to the Morgan Library who can read French will have much fun making out the words and the many untidy emendations on the pages of the manuscript. In a letter to a publisher, as Proust seeks to explain what his novel is about, one word, however, stands alone and is written with a rare exactitude. In a letter to Alfred Vallette, editor of Le Mecure de France, in 1909 Proust described his work-in-progress: it “is a genuine novel and an indecent one in places. One of the principal characters is a homosexual.”

Still Drama: Marina at MoMA

Marina Abramović performing The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010

At ten o’clock on a recent weekday morning, when the crowds were let in the door and up the stairs to the big hall on the second floor of MoMA, Marina Abramović was already seated in the center of a space that had been cordoned off by lines on the floor, strong lights making it seem like a movie set. She was wearing an immensely dramatic flowing red dress. Her black hair was in a single plait which folded around her left shoulder. She had her back to the stairs. She would not move from her own chair, not once, not even to eat or go to the bathroom, while the museum stayed open.

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