Thursday, September 20, 2018

“She would have liked to say something about love and economy…” – Dorothy Whipple Takes on Arnold Bennett

Dress pattern from 1930, 
from the endpapers of Persephone Books' edition of High Wages

“Everything was covered in 1913; it was a discreet age” observes Jane Carter, the intrepid heroine of Dorothy Whipple’s lively and nimble novel High Wages (1930), set in a dress and drapery shop in Tidsley, a fictional town of the British Midlands. This early realist work by Whipple (1893-1966) seeks to uncover the age a bit, particularly with regard to the lives of young working women in the crucible of a small town setting where classes must inevitably intersect.

When we meet 17-year-old Jane it is 1912, and she has just spotted a notice in the window of Chadwick’s haberdashery. The job, as a live-in sales girl, offers a chance at independence and escape from a suffocating home. In Whipple’s rags-to-better-rags story, spanning ten years that form an understated parenthesis around World War I, Jane’s ingenuity, attunement to innovation and fundamental sense of justice take her from shop-girl drudgery to successful small business owner. Along the way, Jane must deal with an exploitative employer, leering London vendors, snooty upper crust matrons and the scions of their families, who assume women of Jane’s station exist solely for their amusement. Jane’s chief companions along this voyage include the faithful and enamored Wilfrid, a poet and worker at the free library; Jane’s dull, shop-girl roommate Maggie, who assumes Wilfrid to be her own boyfriend; the Chadwick’s poor cleaning girl, Lily; Noel, a wealthy young man who keeps crossing increasingly entwining paths with Jane; and a lonely but jovial client, Mrs. Briggs, who herself has crossed from the lower class to the upper by way of marriage and who bankrolls Jane’s business and takes her on a lark to Blackpool - a welcome breath of air and light in this claustrophobic novel. I don't think I'm giving too much away here; I found High Wages’ chief interest to lie outside of its somewhat conventional plot. 

One might imagine an edition of the novel illustrated with the pieces of clothing that parade through it as though on an invisible catwalk, but Whipple is even more attuned to the businessof fashion. She positions her work at the cusp of a small revolution in capitalist mercantilism, which was just beginning to place a high value on marketing. For clothiers, this meant attention to window displays and interior aesthetics as well as the necessity of adapting to the new phenomenon of ready-mades. For customers, such changes spurred the development of modern consumerism. Some of Whipple’s keenest observations limn the manner in which her provincial customers, whose days rarely offer more than household chores, card games and gossip, needlessly buy fashionable attire in order to fill the vacuum of their lives, a prescient exploration of a world in which material goods and desire were becoming increasingly and deliberately entangled.

Much of High Wages is devoted to uncovering the social and economic lives of such provincial women. As a child Jane “often wished the front of a row of houses would fall down and allow her to see what was going on in all the rooms at once,” and her abiding interest in others provides intimate glimpses into these conditions. Though she manages to bob up and down across class lines, her sympathies clearly lie with the downtrodden. She essentially rescues Mrs. Briggs from domestic isolation and the condescension with which those born into the upper-class treat this interloper. Jane’s generosity of spirit and sensitivity to human weakness extends even with those incapable or unwilling to accept it, such as when she tries to assuage Maggie, blindly convinced Jane is trying to steal away Wilfrid, and in scenes with Lily, who fairly worships Jane but is unable to leave an abusive relationship with a drunk. Even Jane’s mounting intolerance of Tidsley’s insularity (“You were so known. If, in absence of mind, you walked in to a lamp-post, the fishmonger knew”) is tempered by an affection for such “an ugly place, a small place, a dirty place,” which happens to be home: “it also meant a great deal to her. She knew it in all its aspects.” The indignities Jane faces in such an environment, though, accumulate into an advocacy for herself and the women around her, leading her to rebel against class injustices, patriarchal attitudes, and - in a transgressive relationship – even marriage, a confining institution in which she sees unhappy people remaining simply because “its’s so hideous getting out.”

Whipple pulls off a remarkable balancing act between the sensitivity she expresses through Jane and the critical eye she casts about her. She can bring a devastating, nearly Caroline Blackwood level of acerbic humor to her descriptions of her small town, small-minded characters: 

Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick went to church on Sunday morning; Mr. Chadwick in his morning-coat, his two scallops of hair showing like the wings of a bird that had got imprisoned under his bowler hat; Mrs. Chadwick in a toque like a humble relation of Mrs. Greenwood’s; she carried before her a round muff like a hedgehog, and another strip of hedgehog bristled round her flat, creased face.

Maggie flounced along in a frock printed all over with large flowers; she looked like something upholstered, and ate caramels without pause.

Customers were often strange creatures; so incredibly confidential. Miss Parsons, for instance, disclosing her life’s sorrow – the hairs on her legs. She had refused an offer of marriage because of these hispid limbs. All her life she was condemned to virginity because of them. Rather prim, thought Jane. She wondered if Guy de Maupassant would have made a tale out of it. A woman resisting temptation with inexplicable virtue; the reasons to be revealed in the last line with dramatic effect: ‘Ses jambes étaient couvertes de poils.’

One of the most surprising aspects of High Wagesis the degree to which it engages another Midlands author, Arnold Bennett, to whose work Whipple’s novel could be considered a companion volume. Bennett is everywhere in High Wages. Early in the book, Jane is seen reading The Old Wives’ Tale, and Whipple even names a minor character after Bennett. Bennett shows up again in the architectural conception of Chadwick’s shop, which closely echoes that of the shop in The Old Wives’ Tale, and in Jane’s observations on the industry of the area. A description of a train trip Jane takes to Manchester could have come right out of Anne of the Five Towns:

She could see the occupants of the first-class carriages playing cards, or fallen into unlovely sleep. They did well to avert their eyes from the landscape they had made. They had made it; but they could not, like God, look and see that it was good. Monstrous slag-heaps, like ranges in a burnt-out hell; stretches of waste land rubbed bare into the gritty earth; parallel rows of back-to-back dwellings; great blocks of mill buildings, the chimneys belching smoke as thick and black as eternal night itself; upstanding skeletons of wheels and pulleys. Mills and mines; mills and mines all the way to Manchester, and the brick, the stone, the grass, the very air deadened down to a general drab by the insidious filter of soot…But Jane, Lancashire born and bred, did not find it depressing. It was no feeble, trickling ugliness, but a strong, salient hideousness that was almost exhilarating.

Taking Bennett’s similarly conflictual expressions of distaste and affection for the Midlands, Whipple fleshes them out in a literary treatment that seems both homage and riposte. At one low point, Jane adopts Bennett’s advice to read Marcus Aurelius, whose aphorisms fall significantly short of addressing the array of problems she faces, and Whipple’s novel suggests that while the author admired Bennett’s work, she may also have seen it as skirting the very real issues that working women in the region faced. 

I found a great deal more to recommend High Wages, and I’ll just note a few of these. For one thing, there’s a huge amount of literature in this novel. In the first chapters, Jane is smitten by the word when Wilfrid recites a poem. She readily accepts his offer to supply her with books, devouring Bennett of course, but also works by H. G. Wells, Algernon Swinburne, John Galsworthy and others of the age. She reads Shakespeare, Jane Austen’s Emmaand Marguerite Audoux’s “perfect thing” Marie Claire (a book which, not coincidentally, was first published in English with an introduction by Bennett). Jane also references the literary tastes of her well-to-do clients, who rarely aspire higher than Marie Corelli or fashion magazines. 

The language in High Wages is also tremendously entertaining (at least to a Yank reader). An automobile is a “mangle.” Home-made cakes at a party include “rock-buns, jumbles, parkin.” Jane refers to a large nose as having “bubukles and welks.”  A woman’s hat is a  “fascinator” (a term new to me but apparently still in use). Some memorable nomenclature also comes from the Cockney accent of Lily, who calls Jane’s perfume “odyclone,” and from Jane’s clients: “Mrs. Thomas called underclothes ‘neathies.’ ‘Neathies!’ said Jane. ‘Lord!’” 

While High Wages is primarily focused on women, commerce and provincialism, it’s also very much concerned with World War I and its aftermath. Whipple shows us Tidsley’s young men departing for battle, the women volunteering at local hospitals, hints of deprivation. Mrs. Chadwick, for example, sneaks into the shop-girls’ butter allocations, using a razor blade to pare off slices to add flavor to her own insipid soups. Wilfrid, who reluctantly goes off to war and returns not quite the same person, is almost emblematic of the whole conflict, and Jane’s own attitude towards the war is summed up in a violent thought she has that the only way to stop the killing “was for more men, for every man to go out and kill.” Ultimately, the war lends High Wages a dark cast; despite the work’s humor and sparkle, it is not particularly optimistic. 

But small matter – the engaging High Wages serves as a great introduction to yet another member of that remarkable group of terrific mid-century female British comic writers. Kudos to Persephone Books for bringing it back into circulation. 

I learned of the Persephone Readathon at the Dwell in Possibility blog just after finishing High Wages; please check out posts on other Persephone Press books appearing there now through September 30, 2018

Friday, August 31, 2018

Exile's (Partial) Return: Edgardo Cozarinsky's Urban Voodoo

Argentine filmmaker/writer Edgardo Cozarinsky’s Urban Voodoo(Vudú urbano, 1985) for a moment seemed a poor choice for Richard and Stu’s annual Spanish & Portuguese Lit Months; on the final page, the author reveals that he wrote the book in English. However, he quickly adds that it was “a foreigner’s English” which he then translated into Spanish “so that the original itself becomes translation.”

Such linguistic operations seem fitting for a work concerning the sudden uprooting that can land one in a strange land with a strange language. Combining fiction, non-fiction and autobiography, Urban Voodoo is an oddity, a collection of “postcards,” two to four pages each, prefaced by a piece describing Cozarinsky’s return (or imagined return), after a long absence, to his hometown of Buenos Aires, where he’d been a member of the literary circle that included Jorge Luis Borges, Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo. Like another member of this group, J. Rodolfo Wilcock, Cozarinsky fled to Europe - Paris in his case - leaving behind the military dictatorship and “Dirty War” that engulfed Argentina in the mid 1970’s.

Cozarinsky’s introductory piece, “The Sentimental Journey,” sets the stage with a hallucinatory blurring of the author’s old and new homelands. Writing of himself in third person, Cozarinsky describes his unsuccessful attempt to obtain a refund on the return portion of the round-trip ticket he’d bought from Buenos Aires to Paris a year before. Burning the ticket and flushing away the flaming debris, he decides to take a break from his work on a translation of Michael Leiris and head out to a café: 

The place looked renovated, for sure, in a style of shiny formica and indirect lighting. But it also seemed familiar, in some way he could not put his finger on. Something suggested a clue: the lighted sign over the door no longer advertised Stella Artois, Queen of Beers, but Alabama Coffee and Teas…Behind the neon, you could still make out, across four green leaves of a painted-over emblem, the words El Trébol.  

“Struck by disbelief,” Cozarinsky finds himself mysteriously transported from Paris to Buenos Aires, where he’s immediately whisked off by old friends, a former lover, and an ingratiating government informer “always on the winning side.” He is embraced, disparaged, encouraged, insulted, invited to return and produce his books and films, told to get lost, made to feel the terrible weight of the time he’s missed, of friends now missing, of the rumors of desaparecidos, “the electric prod, the iron bar, shot off fingers, drugged bodies dumped from airplanes at night.” This is hardly a reassuring homecoming, even if only in the imagination. 

The thirteen “postcards” that follow, dated between 1975 and 1980, report experiences and reflections of Cozarinsky’s “visit.” Though the section is entitled “The Postcard Album of the Journey,” it’s unclear whether the cards are mailed from Buenos Aires to Paris or vice-versa, or even from any actual place to another. They read like missives sent into the night, appeals to strangers, assertions or confirmations of Cozarinsky’s existence meant to be hauled in by passing readers like messages in a bottle. In a brief conclusion, Cozarinsky notes how postcards “seize and reproduce the most typical aspect of a landscape, a monument, a face,” adding that his texts “would like to manufacture common, public images, a déjà vu that would dilute whatever is too subjective in an individual’s sensibility and experience” – a protective distancing from the atrocities of the dirty war and from guilt at having gotten away. The cards’ subjects, interwoven with memories of Cozarinsky’s “carefree, squandered, irretrievable youth,” vary widely: his project to make a film about Eva Perón; reflections on a demolished Buenos Aires cinema; a discussion of fast food; the daring and amusing methods of shoplifters the author knew; a recollection of his first cocktail, a Cuba Libre, at age 14. Each piece is headed by one or more epigraphs from the likes of Karl Marx, C. P. Cavafy, Ross Macdonald, Karl Klaus, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Theodore Adorno, Andrei Biely, Kris Kristofferson, Roland Barthes, Christopher Isherwood, Caetano Veloso. Cozarinsky integrates these quotations into his literary montage as “residues of reading, a habit I find less and less fundamentally different from writing.” As an experiment in form, Urban Voodoo is unabashed in its borrowing and creates an intriguing blueprint for how a writer might present experience; one could even imagine the book printed as a set of postcards in a box.

Though no dominating theme links the cards, they accumulate to give a cinematic impression touching on nostalgia, voyeurism, the compulsion to create and, of course, the pain of exile. Cozarinsky wanders about, exploring and observing, salting his texts with memories; projects imagined or accomplished; meditations on time, memory and separation; and thoughts on the fascist regime, entrenched power, globalism and even the peculiar ability of palm trees to define the sky behind them. The book’s deliberately internationalist perspective echoes the tension Cozarinsky feels at being riven between two worlds and displays his fascination with literature and media from around the globe, as evident in the cities he references: Buenos Aires, Paris, Shanghai, Istanbul, Stockholm, Manaus, Berlin, Malacca, Bahia, to name but a few – a catalogue that suggests a craving for an elsewhere as well as a conflicted desire for the reassuring commonalities to be found in contemporary urban experience. Numerous literary references also figure into Cozarinsky’s searching attempt to contextualize himself in time and place as well as in fiction. Engaging in a performance of and struggle with “some urban voodoo,” the author tries to arrive at scraps of meaning in a globalized urban culture that can produce such a simultaneously antagonistic and entwined sense of displacement and familiarity, of regret and relief, of the immediacy of the past’s hold on the present. Susan Sontag, writing in a forward to the book, highlights the personal necessity of this dialectical ceremony: “by conjuring up the past, to heighten unappeased desires and also to exorcise them.” 

Though Urban Voodoo may not be a book I’ll rush about pressing into others’ hands, it has a strange tenacity, balanced on the edge where exile meets exile’s return. Like Roberto Bolaño’s Antwerp, with its similarly disruptive narrative, incorporation of cinematic elements and meditations on loss and exile, Urban Voodoo expresses the perturbations of identity that accompany one’s seeking to be an artist while escaping an oppressive homeland and having one’s cultural allegiances splintered. For anyone who’s ever been divided between two continents or cultures – even a division not fraught with the terrible burdens of dictatorship and war – this spare book may offer plenty of resonance. If nothing else, the work’s memorable title furnishes an apt name for those psychological and emotional exertions in which so many dislocated persons must engage in their attempt to reconcile an irretrievable past with a new and unfamiliar future. 

Edgardo Cozarinsky

Friday, August 24, 2018

An Affirming Flame: Olivia Manning’s Levant Trilogy

Dorian of Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau, having succeeded in getting me hooked on English writer Olivia Manning’s semi-auto-biographical set of three novels collected as the Balkan Trilogy, proposed a while ago that we join forces to read its sequel, the Levant Trilogy. And here we are. These six novels together, gathered under the umbrella title The Fortunes of War, form too great a narrative arc not to read them in sequence; in writing about the Levant Trilogy, I’ll also necessarily address the unity it forms with its predecessor. 

Thus, before I head into the Levant Trilogy - consisting of the novels The Danger TreeThe Battle Lost and Wonand The Sum of Things- I think an extremely brief synopsis of the Balkan Trilogy, with minimal spoilers, may be helpful. The series follows the fortunes of Guy and Harriet Pringle, a British couple of humble origins, now in their early twenties, who we learn have only recently and rapidly met and married in England while Guy has been home for the summer from his job teaching English literature in Bucharest. Guy has now brought Harriet back to Romania with him, and the first volume of the trilogy focuses largely on Harriet’s adaptation both to the “Paris of the East” and to her new husband. Their arrival coincides with events that will shape their fates and those of all around them: the series opens just as World War II begins, a demarcation of a changed world nearly as definitive as that established by W. H. Auden's poem, “September 1, 1939.” The news and rumors of Nazi aggression grow daily, and the encroaching threat, increasingly pronounced and perilous, forces a series of moves for the Pringles, driving them first to Athens then, concluding the trilogy, out of Europe altogether, on a packed boat heading across the Mediterranean towards Egypt. 

That skeletal synopsis reveals little and suggests even less of the extraordinary richness and breadth of this series, which, after all, stretches to some 1,400 pages, with most of the narrative filtered indirectly through the astute observations and lacerating wit of Harriet. One of the work’s most unusual features is the perspective it offers from the periphery of the war. As a historical novel about World War II, Manning’s sextet presents a stunningly immersive panorama, as compelling and necessary as a record of the Balkan and Levant frontiers of the war as it is a captivating work of fiction. Despite the Pringles’ travails and the constant intrusion of poverty, Guy and Harriet occupy a relatively privileged position, not exactly in the war or even of it, but inhabiting the littoral of events, constantly uncertain whether the next tide will drag them out into the conflict or wash them onto safer shores. Manning explores these geographical shores with an impressive attunement to urban textures and the cultures and subcultures Harriet and Guy traverse, but this liminal psychological terrain – the way in which such relatively ordinary people are almost continually prodded, with an ever-sharpening stick, to try to stay a step ahead of the threat that follows them – makes The Fortunes of War a tour-de-force. 

A blurb from Howard Moss on the back of the New York Review Books edition of the Balkan Trilogy points to its rare combination of “soap opera and literature.” The soap opera aspect stems in part from this relatively safe space the Pringles inhabit. A limited cast also contributes to this quality, the chief characters forming a small enough coterie that they could feature on a stage - as indeed they do under the direction of Guy, whose irrepressible passion for literature and for pushing the light of civilization against a darkening world drives him to mount a couple of theatrical productions. The novels’ episodic, serial quality stands out so much that early in my reading I began to think that the work could make a great TV series; Dorian promptly informed me this had already occurred in 1990’s, starring the young Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in the lead roles. Manning had earlier in her career also worked as a reader for MGM Studios, charged with reviewing novels to determine their suitability for screen adaptation, so go figure. While the world of Manning’s characters is hardly devoid of “excitement” (what Harriet at one point deems the thing for which women have the greatest attraction), another element reminiscent of soap opera is a frequent focus on the navigation of petty bureaucratic obstacles as opposed to genuine danger (though that certainly exists too, particularly in the Levant Trilogy). There’s enough biting, dry humor in Manning’s depiction of these bureaucratic dealings that, absent the looming war, a few of her scenes could come across like some 1940’s version of “The Office.” 

What lifts the novels into higher literature, though, is the sheer breadth of experience that Manning explores as well as her unwillingness to flinch from difficult subjects and human contradictions. Nothing and no one, not even Manning’s ostensible stand-in Harriet, is spared. Though these books are thoroughly British (and serve up a bounty of period British slang, idiomatic expressions and cultural mores), Manning directs plenty of criticism to the most granular elements of her own country’s waning imperialist aspirations and ingrained colonizing attitudes towards those it views as its subjects, with an acuity that develops in tandem with Harriet’s deepening experience. Harriet bristles at the poor British soldiers dying within sight of Cairo while other members of the British community “go duck hunting on Lake Mariotis and kill the birds by the thousands.” When one Englishman expresses alarm at an opinion that the Egyptians could ever reject the British, Harriet’s response almost suggests that she wishes they would: 

“Turned on us? You don’t really think they’d turn on us after all we’ve done for them?”
Harriet laughed at him, “What have we done for them?” 
“We’ve brought them justice and prosperity, haven’t we? We’ve shown them how people ought to live.” 

The novels also offer a refreshing openness concerning human sexuality, in which even a noticeable British reserve concerning overt sexual description gets pretty much done in under the withering heat of Egypt, where most of the Levant Trilogy is set.  

Manning’s frankness also features in a kind of merciless honesty with regard to the development of her characters, one of the finest aspects of these novels. She mines each of the prinicipals of her memorable cast, revealing their heroic and cowardly aspects, their trivial concerns and acts of bravery, their sense of responsibility and their dissolution (the novels are awash in alcohol). She deliberately frustrates any inclination by readers to fully sympathize with any of the group. From the “poor derelicts of war” to the most affable and good-hearted of her creations (Harriet included), all undergo a scouring, critical assessment. Even the best display occasionally objectionable, even odious behavior. No one is entirely likeable; everyone is entirely human. And because her characters must necessarily adapt to the realities and stresses of war, they become a more or less portable ensemble, moving together from one place and one novel to the next, with stragglers appearing and reappearing according to where event sends them. If a predominant, overarching thematic concern exists in The Fortunes of War, it’s contained in the title: that war puts one at the mercy of fortune, that no one is immune. Manning details how the war, in both gradual and instantaneous ways and even at a distance, alters individual lives and fates. This quality is beautifully embodied in the memorable character of Yakimov in the Balkan Trilogy, a former Russian prince reduced to begging for drinks and loans, and in the Pringles’ constantly shifting financial situation and search for employment. Yet the title is also ironic; Manning’s characters must always elect how to meet the daily, arduous, sometimes dangerous challenges, where a split-second, instinctual decision can make the difference between life and death – or at least between bland food and no food at all. 

In addition to being a war novel, a marriage novel and a romance, The Fortunes of War also fits that common 20thcentury genre of the school novel. A great number of the petty bureaucratic dealings detailed in the novels emerge from the work’s emphasis on literature and schooling. Literary references abound. Many of the Pringle’s acquaintances serve as teachers or school administrators, among whom a constant political jostling for scarce job opportunities follows the Pringles everywhere, with the Peter Principle in full effect, as these few enviable positions get turned into mere sinecures by the most opportunistic and inept candidates (one of whom is described as having suggested to his students that Dante and Milton could have met in the streets of Florence). Guy, the most dedicated and competent of these teachers, is the essence of the distracted, impassioned professor, routinely seen clasping papers and with books spilling out of his pockets, always focused on the next lecture, the next teaching job, the next play he can produce in order to create a bulwark against barbarity (that barbarity is on everyone’s mind is evident in the play he elects to put on in Bucharest, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, in which the machinations of war destroy the relationship between the title couple).

As with that play, and as a work concerning marriage, The Fortunes of War pulls off a nearly miraculous merging of the personal and the political. The domain of spousal relations, itself a kind of battle, touches the realm of choosing the best path forward though one’s given situation: “In an imperfect world, marriage was a matter of making do with what one had chosen.” Manning’s exploration of marriage is intimate, wide-ranging and simultaneously acerbic and appreciative, a dissection of the ways in which young married people come to know one another (or not) and adapt (or don’t) to the daily disappointments, slights, moments of tenderness and courage, the discovery of divergent interests and previously unknown character traits, the tolerance or intolerance of extramarital affairs, the tension between commitment to another and independence. Guy and Harriet could scarcely be more different: “She saw the world as a reality and he did not.” Guy, gregarious and demanding to be in the middle of a group, organizing people, making the possible out of the impossible, forms an uneasy complement with Harriet, who has “no gift for ingratiating herself with strangers” and often feels abandoned. Responding to Guy’s obliviousness to her feelings, his devotion to others leaving no room for her, she thinks: “This…is marriage: knowing too much about each other.” There’s a line running from Manning’s sextet back to Middlemarch, another long novel partly concerning the gradual discovery by young women that their husbands are not who they imagined them to be. One might even mark a division between the Balkan and Levant trilogies along the line where marital tensions can be tolerated or not. While the entire series is primarily told indirectly through Harriet, the Levant Trilogy largely leaves Guy on the margins and focuses on Harriet’s increasing distance from her husband: 

She began to see their differences as irreconcilable. He was never ill and did not understand illness. She wanted a union of mutual devotion while he saw marriage merely as a frame to hold an indiscriminate medley of relationships that, as often as not, were too capacious to be contained. 

The two dally in extramarital alliances (and while the British reserve makes these mostly appear social, both Manning and her husband had numerous love affairs). In once such episode, as Harriet’s isolation leaves her susceptible to type of Cairo dandy, the man is somewhat taken aback by Harriet’s firmness in rejecting him: “You are an unusual lady, Mrs. Pringle. Very unusual. You think for yourself.”

I suppose I should say a few things about the Levant Trilogy as distinct from its predecessor, since this is the work about which Dorian and I agreed to write. With Harriet’s growing independence, Manning lets down her hair in the Levant Trilogy, which feels wilder, even more narratively a bit less conventional than its predecessor, with a curious rebranding I found initially disorienting after the notable narrative consistency of the Balkan Trilogy. The trilogy begins in Cairo, "the clearing house of Eastern Europe," almost a year after the Pringles have landed there following their escape from Athens. However, the couple is mysteriously absent from the first pages of the work. Manning deviates from the Balkan Trilogy’s mostly linear plot and short chapters of seldom more than 10 pages. The first chapter in the Levant Trilogy stretches to 55 pages, and its focus has shifted suddenly and almost entirely away from the Pringles to a new character, a young British officer named Simon Boulderstone, whose chapters alternate and interweave with theirs throughout the three books. We follow Boulderstone into the desert war, the closest Manning has yet come to depiction of battle, which, aside from rumors and air raids, has mostly been lurking in the wings for 900 pages. With Boulderstone, Manning opens a new theater in the Libyan desert and into the “killing, destruction and turbulent hatred that in these days passed for normal life.” For the Pringles, the war remains mostly off in the distance – the number of times Manning references smoke on the horizon and the enemy on distant ridges might be calculated by a patient reader one day – but it intrudes more and more graphically, even penetrating the relative safety and intimacy of life in and around Cairo. In a disturbing scene in The Danger Tree, a British diplomat tries to revive his dead son by attempting to feed him through a hole in his cheek where a grenade the child picked up in the desert has blown away half of his face (the scene, based on an actual incident, prompted outrage at Manning by the boy’s parents and others who found it in terrible taste, though it displays Manning’s determination to let no experience go uncaptured). 

Though the six novels that make up The Fortunes of War were published separately, a reason for dividing them into two trilogies may be more than just the practical matter of their physical size: 12 years elapsed between the last volume of the Balkan Trilogy (1965) and the first volume of the Levant Trilogy (1977). During these intervening years. Manning wrote other works, most notably 1974’s The Rain Forest, set on a fictionalized island in the Indian Ocean and featuring a married couple much like Harriet and Guy. Perhaps more relevant to the Levant Trilogy, a popular account of the desert war appeared in Britain in 1966. Written by the soldier/poet Keith Douglas, Alamein to Zem Zem makes for a riveting companion to the Boulderstone chapters of the Levant trilogy, its factual account dovetailing with the Manning’s fictional one. Some images from Douglas’ work appear directly in the Levant Trilogy, for instance the use of images cut out of petrol tins - representing a hat, a bottle and a boat to denote the paths used by Allied forces in the featureless desert. Douglas’ striking scenes of tank battle also figure in, as does his own injury from a mine, mirrored in that of Boulderstone. Whatever one may think of Manning’s having finally brought the war into the work in a far more direct way, these chapters are enormously effective in conveying war’s horrors and feature some of Manning’s best landscape descriptions (I contemplated a book Manning might have written about the desert had the war not been so occupying). 

(Photo - Universal Images Group)

One of the grandest aspects of Manning’s work is the sheer adventure of it, the willingness of Harriet and Guy to display, in Hemingway’s famous formula for courage, “grace under pressure.” For many of Harriet and Guy’s colleagues, England remains “a solution for every difficulty,” a distant target of escape. Yet Harriet and Guy brave out peril through a sense of not only duty but also adventure, along with remarkable brands of courage that embrace experience rather than shrink from it. As Harriet says at one point,

We’re all displaced persons these days. Guy and I have accumulated more memories of loss and flight in two years than we could in a whole lifetime of peace. And, as you say, it’s not over yet. But we’re seeing the world. We might as well try and enjoy it. 

Guy’s approach takes the form of a sense of duty and the aforementioned drive to create and teach. As Harriet notes,“He cannot protest, except that his behavior is protest. He must either howl against his life or treat it as a joke…He believes that right and virtue, if persisted in, must prevail, yet he knows that he’s been defeated by people for whom the whole of life is a dishonest game.” But as though to emphasize the distance Guy constantly tries to put between himself and realities of the war, the introduction of the desert war into the sextet coincides with his relative disappearance in the Levant Trilogy. The novels have always been essentially Harriet’s story, but as the narrative concentrates on her, it takes her into a kind of Christ-like wandering in the desert when she declines a chance to escape back to England and embarks on a genuine voyage into unknown through the countries of the Levant - without plans, contacts or even funds on which to live. And this may be Manning’s greatest achievement in The Fortunes of War: the insight, intrepidness, resourcefulness, wit, dexterity, élan and daring of this singular character, this clear-eyed witness. 

Readers may notice a widening lacuna during Manning’s long narrative: the question of what Harriet doesexactly. In the first trilogy, she seems to have no great activity other than showing up in the evenings at bars to drink with Guy and whatever coterie swarms around him. She lands a job from time to time, but these are usually short-lived and shorter-paid (or not paid at all), leaving one to wonder just what she’s about. She even expresses a frequent sense of being a void in the world: “Harriet thought enviously: “They belong to a world at war. They have a part in it, they even die,’ but Harriet had no part in anything.” I found in these 1,400 pages a single instance of apparently inadvertent authorial intrusion where Manning slips into first person when focusing on Harriet, a point at which the work's autobiographical foundation peeks through and points to a rather obvious key to Harriet’s role. In the sextet’s last chapters, Harriet hears Castlebar, a self-described poet, talk about this work, and muses that she too might try her hand at being a writer. Occasionally in these novels, Harriet has alluded to keeping a journal; it is only here that she recognizes that her writing may be a purpose and calling.

Keith Douglas relates in Alamein to Zem Zem an an incident that provides pointed recognition of the value that literature may provide for giving structure to life. Describing a battle scene along a desert ravine, he notes [the italics are mine] that “three men at least had been killed in the last hour on ground which I had tried to warn them off, and of which even their memories of schoolboy adventure stories should have made them wary.” Manning’s grand adventure story is so astute, so overbrimming with a sense of using one's wits to survive, that it seems to offer a similar kind of structuring of experience that might serve one well during perilous times. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this book may save your life, but I'm certainly grateful for having read this extraordinary act of witnessing couched in such a splendidly entertaining work.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

“Won’t the dead come to talk for just half an hour with this sick man?” – Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives Remixed


Chris Clarke’s recent translation of Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives (Vies Imaginaires, 1896), the first English version in more than a quarter century, brings this remarkable book to a new generation of Anglophone readers. Though the influence of Schwob’s work extends widely, from Max Jacob to Rainer Maria Rilke to William Faulkner, Imaginary Lives in particular took hold in South America, where Jorge Luis Borges used it as a model for his A Universal History of Infamy, which in turn inspired J. Rudolfo Wilcock’s comic masterpiece The Temple of Iconoclasts and Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas

The ostensibly simple concept of Imaginary Lives seems so irresistibly attractive as almost to dare one to try one’s own hand at it. The idea of the work stems from Schwob’s meditations over the nature of biography. “The historical sciences,” he writes in his introduction to Imaginary Lives, “reveal to us only those points by which people are connected to public actions.” Instead, invoking “art in opposition to general ideas,” Schwob proposes a new approach, “a book that describes a man in all his irregularities” that would “relate the unique existences of men, whether they were divine, mediocre, or criminal.” Using for his models Plutarch, Vasari, Samuel Johnson and John Aubrey, and having an affinity with Walter Pater’s Imaginary Portraits, which appeared only a few years before Imaginary Lives, Schwob creates a series of 22 vignettes of about five pages each, written using a concentrated, gothic-baroque language reminiscent of that employed by Isak Dinesen in her “gothic tales.” These factual-fictional biosketches of persons real and imagined begin in the 5thcentury B.C.E. with the pre-Socratic philosopher Empodocles and end in the 1820’s with William Burke and William Hare of Edinburgh, who murdered 16 people in order to procure corpses for dissection. In between, Schwob portrays the lives of Lucretius, Petronius, Paolo Uccello, Pocahontas, Captain Kidd and Major Stede Bonnet among others, as well as several figures he manufactures from the margins of history, including an African slave, Septima; the impoverished, wandering 15thcentury “Katherine the Lacemaker”; and Gabriel Spenser, a moony young English boy recruited by a traveling theatre troupe to play female parts. Two other portraits In addition to those of Kidd and Bonnet give pirates a disproportionate representation in Schwob’s book, reflecting the author’s debt to Daniel Defoe, whom Schwob translated and whose A General History of the Pyrates served as yet another template.[1]


Italians are also represented significantly in Schwob’s book, a reflection of Schwob’s consumption a good deal of Italian literature, so I was thrilled to discover that Italian literature has recently repaid him in a brief but ingenious way with a new take on Imaginary Lives.[2] Swiss-Italian writer Fleur Jaeggy, who writes in Italian and has herself previously translated Imaginary Livesinto that language, has created a fascinating homage/dialogue with Schwob’s book entitled These Possible Lives (Vite congetturali, 2015). Her gentle tweak of title from imagination to possibility (or conjecture, as the Italian original precises) nudges Schwob a bit towards earth, and in fact puts him right in it, since of the three lives Jaeggy chooses to recreate, the last one, following Thomas De Quincey and John Keats, is Schwob’s own, from cradle to grave. 

By restricting her focus to three writers (more specifically three writers of a particularly Romantic bent), Jaeggy also leapfrogs simple homage and goes to the heart of Imaginary Lives as an act and style of writing, linking her portraits thematically by exploring the “irregularities,” “unique existences” and pathologies that led these figures to write. Modeling her language on that of Schwob, Jaeggy gives her three figures the Schwob treatment, building her portraits using an impasto of biographical peculiarities impossible to encapsulate more succinctly than Jaeggy has already done in her minimalist pieces, so I’ll just provide a flavor.

The “enigmatic sphinx” De Quincey drew from the West, taking inspiration from Wordsworth, Coleridge, Hazlitt and other in their peculiarities. De Quincey drew from the East, towards which he was, in Jaeggy’s splendid prose: “…driven forward by opium-fueled caprices. A pack of gods clutched him. The pyramids, hospice of the dead. He dreamed up the abominable crocodile head and the turbaned Malay, delighting in the sickness and horror of original matter, deposits of which could be traced back to the stars.” Jaeggy’s choice of De Quincey is something of an intellectual inside joke, given that Schwob translated De Quincey’s own fictionalized biographical work on Immanuel Kant, which Jaeggy herself translated into Italian. 

The section on John Keats begins in a quintessentially Schwobian mode by pondering the possible effects on a life’s trajectory of the kind of minutiae biographers sometimes overlook: 

In 1803, the guillotine was a common children’s toy. Children also had toy cannons that used real gunpowder, and puzzles depicting the great battles of England. They went around chanting, “Victory or death!” Do childhood games influence character? 

But the author injects a new, skeptical tone in answering her question above: “We have to assume that they do, but let’s set aside such heartbreaking speculations for a moment.” She then goes on to furnish a catalogue of factoid-al, potential influences and guiding lights for Keats, among them his natural love of fighting, fascination with the cadavers procured from resurrection men during his medical studies (a nicely worked-in allusion to the Burke/Hare chapter from Schwob), a passion for a stranger he’d seen for a mere half an hour, and a transformation “in a single afternoon in 1813” when he attended a lecture about Edmund Spenser. 

Reaching Schwob, Jaeggy builds her skeletal sketch out of Schwob’s love of play; his discovery of Poe at an early age and then of François Villon and Robert Louis Stevenson; his intestinal illnesses and operations; his deep attachments, first to another melancholy school boy who committed suicide then to Louise, a probable prostitute to whom he was devoted for some two years before her death from tuberculosis (and to whom Schwob’s hallucinatory short fiction, Monelle, is dedicated); and Schwob’s subsequent and gradual withdrawal from friends. Drawing attention to her own project, Jaeggy also writes of Schwob’s conceiving of Vies Imaginaires

Those men who live like dogs, those sainted women credulous in the face of any clever monk, those who damn themselves, indulging in a longing for everything beneath them – this was the company that Schwob kept now. He realizes that he’s smiling when he reads his own words aloud to himself: ‘Don’t embrace the dead because they suffocate the living…’ 

Knowing he had but a short time to live, Schwob set off on a long voyage to Samoa to visit the grave of his long-time correspondent Stevenson, prompting Jules Renard to quip, “He lives his stories before dying.”

These Possible Lives is such a pleasure to read that I almost wished Jaeggy had followed the standard model and provided a longer volume with more lives (this one weighs in at scarcely 50 pages). But thin as it is, her own book is deeply satisfying, striking just the right tone and proportion and displaying impressive restraint that implies more of an interest in querying such an enterprise than in updating it. I am puzzled by the translator’s injection of the word “These” into the title, although it does seem to underscore the deliberateness behind Jaeggy’s limited selection. As if to further emphasize her selectivity, Jaeggy cleverly hints, in the De Quincey section, at her capacity to have created more by including a brief catalogue of a number of writers and others - including Wordsworth, Coleridge and Charles Lamb - whom she each tags with a particular particularity.   

It may seem odd that Jaeggy fails to devote any of her three portraits to female writers, as did others who spun off variations on Imaginary Lives. However, women stare out from the pattern contrived for the stories of these three men and leave the reader wondering at their own “possible lives.” In the catalogue referenced above, Jaeggy also mentions Anne Radcliffe, Mrs. Leigh Hunt and Lamb’s sister Mary, who “stabbed her own mother through the heart.” Women also feature prominently in their more intimate connections to Jaeggy’s three male figures. There is Wordsworth’s young daughter, dead at an early age, over whose grave De Quincey “knelt every night.” Fanny Brawne, “a matter of sorcery” for Keats and whose name Keats “didn’t want anyone to utter,” gets a full two pages. Compiling descriptions of Brawne, Jaeggy notes, “The history of female beauty is almost always told in the negative,” an observation almost inconceivable in Schwob. Of Schwob’s obsession with Louise, Jaeggy writes that “whenever he was left alone, [he became] frightened that the dead girl would die again. He sees her ghost laughing in the corners of the room, its watery eyes seem to suggest new games…but he can no longer hear the chirping and nonsense in her – the child aged in death.” A specifically romantic relation to the feminine is implied in each of these portraits. As fascinating and engrossing as these portraits may be, Jaeggy also seems to cock a knowing eyebrow at the palpable, decadent entwining of love and death among these Romantics. 

The cover of the New Directions paperback edition of These Possible Lives labels it “Nonfiction,” while the description and blurbs on the back refer to Jaeggy as “a master of the essay form” and speak of her “sensuous mini-biographies in light and shade.” There’s no reference to Schwob’s premonitory influence or recognition that these are fictions, making me almost wonder if Jaeggy and her publisher might have deliberately conspired to further the fact/fiction blurring in which Jaeggy revels. But whether such an intention is at play here or not, Jaeggy, having turned Schwob’s backwards telescope on himself, has certainly upped his game in a contribution that easily belongs atop the pile of its many predecessors – not merely an exercise in form, but a shrewd questioning of its appeal, one especially provocative coming from a writer whose other books apparently evince a deep interest in portraiture and self-representations. A next step might have been for Jaeggy to create her own “possible life,” an autobiographical sketch, a missing fourth chapter one can almost already discern as a question hovering phantom-like beyond the end of These Possible Lives. But that kind of exercise some other author can try. In the meantime, I look forward to reading more of Fleur Jaeggy’s remarkable work. 

[1]At a Schwob-themed event mounted by the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco, translator Chris Clarke selected the Bonnet chapter to read aloud, a bravura performance he should seriously consider taking on the road.
[2]Wilcock, an Argentine, wrote his Imaginary Lives-inspired work in Italian, so this is at least the second time Schwob has been so honored. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Visit to Denestornya

Over the years the original outer ramparts had all disappeared, leaving only the main building to which had been added, at different times and in different styles, a series of later wings. The long rectangle of the main building was closed at each corner by massive stone towers which presumably had been added as a defence against the first cannon. Where the outer walls had stood, later Abadys, freed from the threat of siege, had planted flower-beds and lawns.

The last of the mediaeval defensive outworks, the tower over the gatehouse, had stood as late as the eighteenth century…[but] had to be demolished, leaving an empty space where once the great gatehouse had marked the entrance from the moat to the castle’s defended outer courts.

Here Count Denes Abady built a horseshoe-shaped forecourt, on the right of which he erected stables for thirty-two horses, while on the left there was a covered riding-school. In the apex of the horseshoe curve that joined these two buildings was an imposing gateway to the inner court through which could pass the largest carriages with all the parade of outriders and postillions. Over the doorway gigantic titans of carved stone lifted boulders menacingly as if they were always ready to hurl these down on anyone bold enough to venture that way; while towering above these giants was the figure of Atlas bearing the globe upon his back. On each side of the new great entrance were carriage-houses, tack-rooms, baking ovens to make enough bread for a hundred persons, a laundry furnished with a cauldron large enough to hold the dirty linen of a small town, and apartments for the equerries, footmen, coachmen, porters, grooms and huntsmen. The horseshoe court was built in rococo style between the years from 1747 and 1751, as an inscription over the door arch tells all those who pass below. The parapet, which half-hid the low curving roofs, was decorated on the outer side by large ornamental vases while on the inside, five metres apart, were placed statues of ancient gods and mythological figures, each with their traditional attributes and all writhing and twisting as if in ceaseless movement… 

Miklòs Bànffy, They Were Counted, 1934

In my dreams of one day being able to visit Transylvania, I’d placed high on my list of places to visit the Bànffy Castle at Bonţida – “Denestornya” in the fictional world of the castle’s most famous resident, the great Transylvanian writer Miklòs Bànffy. This March, with three companions, I managed to get to Transylvania. We began in Cluj-Napoca, where we visited the Bànffy family’s palace in town and the grand old New York Hotel, once one of the great literary hubs of eastern Europe. The first we saw amid the chaos of an occupying temporary travel expo, and the second lay shrouded in scaffolding, its once ornate interior, from what we could see through dusty windows, now in a shocking state of (hopefully temporary) disrepair. Leaving the visit to Bonţida for our return to Cluj - the castle lies some 30 kilometers outside the city - we drove out of the city and followed roughly the same route taken by Patrick Leigh Fermor on the 1934 road trip he describes in Between the Woods and the Water, making a loop through a bare majority of the medieval towns referenced by the Saxon name for Transylvania, Siebenbürgen. Over narrow roads shared by big-rigs and horse-carts, we made our way across wide plains and rolling hills; up into snowy mountain forests; past castles, fortified churches, factories and communist-era apartment blocks; though Romanian, Hungarian, Saxon, Székely and Tsigane villages; along the aisles and up into the bell towers of austere and baroque churches; and deep into fantastical salt mines, 19thcentury cafés and contemporary Dadaist bars serving blood-thick wine. 

Daily snow that had pursued us since our arrival finally pounced in Sibiu, an unexpectedly heavy overnight storm that delayed our return to Cluj until too late for the visit to Bonţida. I tried desperately to adopt the sanguine attitude taken by Fermor at his having to forego the magnificent art collection of Sibiu’s Brukenthal Palace (something we managed not to miss) and resigned myself to returning Bànffy castle to the shelf of dreams. But the morning’s clearing skies brought courage: we’d risk a run for Bonţida despite an extremely tight schedule for making our flight out. A quarter hour before the castle’s opening time, a kindly man standing by the gate, as though as he’d been awaiting our arrival, withdrew tickets from his pocket and let us in.


Though just short of 75 years have passed since war forced the Bànffy family to flee their castle and just over 100 since the period described by Miklòs Bànffy in his Transylvanian Trilogy, my first glimpse of “the Versailles of Transylvania” was like a punch to the gut. Emerging from the arched entrance-way at the bottom of the horseshoe-shaped building that had housed the property’s stables and riding school, I had a panorama of the estate. The overwhelming immediate impression was of a world obliterated. Crumbling stone walls flanked an enormous gap in one wing of the horseshoe. The exterior surface of the main building, formerly the Bànffy family’s living quarters, seemed flayed. Most of the windows gaped into voids; one lower sill disappeared into a charred black hole. Others had been filled in with what appeared to be concrete. Patches of snow lay across the grassy courtyard, mirrored overhead by passing white clouds of the departing snowstorm. The absence of any sign of life, aside from a dog sleeping curled up against the cold, gave the place an overpowering atmosphere of desolation and abandonment.

Upon closer inspection, the façade of the main building showed some recent attention. Enterprising artists had treated some of the windows as canvases, a disorienting juxtaposition with the decay. Up the building’s fractured and crumbling stone steps, we entered what had once been a grand entrance hall with a sweeping marble staircase. The stairs were gone. The landing had collapsed, as had an adjacent vaulted ceiling, half of its bricks having fallen and broken through the flooring, leaving a mountain of rubble. We wandered the downstairs rooms, each stripped to the bricks except for occasional bits of plaster etched with graffiti, the floors consisting of bare wood planks or exposed dirt. As though in defiance of this dilapidation, several contemporary art installations occupied the foyer, including dozens of bulbs suspended on long white cords hung from the ceiling and a large, decorative oriental fan that doubled as a barrier, blocking off a wing of the building. A few panels in Romanian, Hungarian and English provided information about the structure, but none of these signs of activity hinted at the life, as described by Bànffy, that had passed through these rooms during the glory days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was as though nearly every trace of that world had been erased by intention and inattention, as in fact it had been. 




…the three young men retired to the library. This was a circular room in the tower above Balint’s own suite. All round the walls and even between the windows were fitted bookcases made of teak and fitted with doors of mirror-glass. These were full of all the volumes collected by generations of Abadys and, as they could not hold all the books, more cases had been built above them, also fitted with looking-glass doors. Above these, even more books were piled up, almost hiding the stone busts of the Seven Wise Men which had been placed there to look down on the baize-covered round table in the center of the room.

The earliest castle constructions at Bonţida appeared in the 12thcentury, and mention of the village itself reaches back a further 300 years. Over the ensuing centuries, structures have been built up and razed, moved along by successive waves of damage, including during the 18th century peasant revolt, the revolutions of 1848, and the political ravages of 20th century Europe, of which the castle, having absorbed so much, might almost be an emblem. In 1944, the retreating Nazis, in retaliation for Miklòs Bànffy’s work to forge an anti-fascist alliance, burned the main building, heavily damaging the structure and destroying its precious library. The interior furnishings were hauled away in 17 trucks to Germany, where they were promptly blown to bits by Allied bombing. Amateur attempts at restoration during the 1960’s did more harm than good, and the Ceausescu regime saw the estate used variously as a village pub, headquarters of an agricultural interest and grazing land for local shepherds. Near total neglect followed the collapse of communism in 1989; excepting the structural bones of the castle, what little remained, including statuary and carved bas-reliefs, was picked off by looters. 


Even Versailles, however, might appear desolate and forgotten on a snowy morning in March absent visitors, and in fact my first impressions of Bànffy castle were deceiving. The Transylvania Trust, an NGO set up some 20 years ago to manage restoration, has renovated most of the building where Miklòs Bànffy last lived and has restored of all four of the castle’s conical towers, the buildings’ red tile roofs, and the outlying kitchen structure, which now contains an “Art Café.” In the stables, the vaulted ceilings are being rebuilt and the columns supporting them plastered and whitewashed. Such progress gives hope that the seemingly impossible task of restoring the family’s former living quarters may one day be accomplished. The Trust has creatively supplemented limited funding from the European Union through historically-themed “Bànffy Castle Days,” movie nights inside the ruins, conservation symposia and a prestigious architectural restoration training program that has graduated over 1,500 students. This July the estate will host the fourth annual “Electric Castle,” a five-day electronica music festival featuring name acts from across the world.



One wonders what Miklòs Bànffy would have made of Bonţida today. Even in a week in Transylvania one can grasp that some problems the author articulated so powerfully still remain – corruption, political short-sightedness, illegal logging of the region’s vast forests, tension over ethnic divisions (Hungarian books, including Bànffy’s, seemed all but absent from bookstores, and just weeks before our trip the Romanian Prime Minister had been forced out after suggesting that if the Székely hung up Székely Land flags he’d hang the Székely up with them). But the progressive Bànffy would no doubt would have been gratified to see so much attention given to revitalizing his castle. I’m not sure the music of Electric Castle would have been to his taste, but as a designer of political pageantry and theatre sets, and an encourager and collaborator with innovative artists of his day, including Béla Bartók, I think he would have appreciated the spectacle. 

While our brief pilgrimage to Bànffy castle made for a poignant coda to the motifs of neglect and dissolution that run through Bànffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy, the recent attentions seemed to affirm an unexpected and defiant optimism, and to underscore the author’s long view of the human comedy. Bànffy castle might well survive to hear the last laugh.


So, with time, the great house grew and was transformed and spread itself with new shapes and new outlines that were swiftly clothed with the patina of years, so that when one looked at it from afar, from the valley of the Aranyos or from the hills even further away, the old castle with its long façades, cupola-capped towers and spreading wings and outbuildings, seemed to have sprung naturally from the promontory on which it stood, to have grown of itself from the clay below, unhelped by the touch of human hand. All around it, on the rising hills behind and in the spreading parkland in front, vast groves of trees, some standing on their own while others spread like great forests, seemed like soft green cushions on which the castle of Denestornya reclined at its ease, as if it had sat there for all eternity and could never have been otherwise.

Below, a couple of videos from Electric Castle with some good views of the castle: