Tag: Michael Dirda

Nanny Barron – Emerson’s Tortured Neighbor

And surely this journal entry should refute Henry James’s view that Emerson possessed no awareness of “the dark, the foul, the base”: “Now for near five years I have been indulged by the gracious Heaven in my long holiday in this goodly house of mine, entertaining and entertained by so many worthy and gifted friends, and all this time poor Nanny Barron, the mad-woman, has been screaming herself hoarse at the Poorhouse across the brook and I still hear her whenever I open my window.”

Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education
Michael Dirda
from a review of:
Emerson: The Mind on Fire
by Robert D. Richardson, Jr.

Raymond Chandler’s Prose Style – Some Examples

But the LOA people knew what they were up to. Two pages into The High Window I was convinced that Chandler, despite some stylistic excesses, belongs in the canon as well as the cigar store:

“A large black and gold butterfly fishtailed in and landed on a hydrangea bush almost at my elbow, moved its wings slowly up and down a few times, then took off heavily and staggered away through the motionless hot scented air.”

Nabokov couldn’t have described a butterfly more tellingly (though he probably would have noted its species and genus). “Staggered away” is perfect. Now consider this: “An old man sat inside it [an elevator] slack-jawed and watery-eyed on a piece of folded burlap on top of a wooden stool. He looked as if he had been sitting there since the Civil War and had come out of that badly.”

Or this: “The bar entrance was to the left. It was dusky and quiet and a bartender moved mothlike against the faint glitter of piled glassware. A tall handsome blond in a dress that looked like seawater sifted over with gold dust came out of the Ladies’ Room touching up her lips and turned toward the arch, humming.

Or even this: “We looked at each other with the clear innocent eyes of a couple of used car salesmen. “

Michael Dirda
Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments

(NOTE – LOA -> Library of America)

Wonders and Epiphanies – Michael Dirda

My Pleiade edition of Gérard de Nerval’s works is inscribed “en toute sympathie” from its French editor to Enid Starkie, the noted Oxford eccentric and biographer of Baudelaire and Flaubert. I found the slightly worn volume in a secondhand bookshop in Arlington for $6, and have often wondered how it got there.

The most restful place in the world is the periodicals reading room of any public library.

In eleventh grade we studied Oedipus the King in a translation for students by Bernard M. W. Knox. Fifteen years later I became friends with Knox, then director of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies here in Washington. It was almost like meeting Sophocles.

From the essay Talismans, in the book Readings, by Michael Dirda
Amazon