Dürrenmatt and a Rantette

September 18th, 2014

Friedrich Dürrenmatt
1921 – 1990

It seems I have been revisiting old favourites quite a bit recently. Here is another. Friedrich Dürrenmatt was Swiss and probably best known as a playwright, but he also wrote fiction, including a few detective novels. The best of these are, in my opinion, (1) Der Richter und Sein Henker (The Judge and his Hangman), (2) Der Verdacht (Suspicion) and (3) Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman (The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel)

These novels are not your usual, run-of-the-mill whodunnit. For instance, the protagonist of (1) and (2), Inspector Hans Barlach is seriously ill and has been given only a year to live. In (2) he manages to track down the bad guy from his sick bed. In (3) the policeman involved resigns his post so that he can continue his investigation into the murders of three young girls. All three novels are dark, moody and peopled by grotesque characters.

Now for my little rant. I have a Penguin book containing English translations of these three and a couple of other of Dürrenmatt’s novels. I have nothing against the translation, but the blurb on the back of the book presents very brief summaries of the plot of the novels. One of the characters in (2) is called Dr Nehle. The blurb calls him Neble. The protagonist in (3) is called Matthäi. The blurb calls him Matthias. Why? Don’t people check things any more? I don’t know why I am so irritated about this, but I am.

Photo credit: Elke Wetzig. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0


September 10th, 2014

e. e. cummings, 1894-1963

In 1923 the publisher Thomas Seltzer published a collection of poems by e.e. cummings entitled Tulips and Chimneys. It was the first volume dedicated entirely to cummings’s poetry and contained what is perhaps his most well-known poem buffalo bill’s.

The title cummings wanted for the collection was Tulips & Chimneys, but the publisher overruled him. Also only 86 of the original 152 poems that cummings submitted were included in the collection.

In 1925 cummings self-published some of the missing poems, together with 34 new ones, in a volume entitled &.

Royal disapproval

August 26th, 2014

Princesses do not get their feet wet.


August 21st, 2014

Although I have put this post in the Hero(in)es category, I must say that its subject seems not to have been a particularly pleasant person. I have known about A. E. Housman (1859-1936) since about 1964, when I bought a copy of his most famous work — the very copy you can see in the picture.

Housman was a brilliant Classics scholar, but he failed to take a degree at Oxford. After this setback he worked as a clerk in the Patents Office in London, while at the same time writing for scholarly journals. In 1892 he was offered the post of Professor of Latin at UCL, which he held until 1911, when he became Professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained until his death.

He self-published A Shropshire Lad in 1896. Rather strangely Housman had never visited Shropshire at that time. However, his book of poems was a great success and has been in print continuously since its first publication. I have to say it is not a happy book, but it does contain some very beautiful poetry.

Housman did not suffer fools gladly and both face to face and in print could be very, very forthright, shall we say? Here are a couple of published comments about Latin scholars he thought could have done better:

Mr. Owen’s innovations, so far as I can see, have only one merit, which certainly, in view of their character, is a merit of some magnitude: they are few.

Dr Postgate’s notes on …… appear to have been written before he knew what his text was going to be, or after he had forgotten what it was.

Housman’s time at UCL is commemorated in the name of the Academic Staff Common Room, a place where I have spent many a pleasant time over coffee after lunch in the company of my then colleagues, now passed away, including G. F. Arnold, J. R. Baldwin, D. B. Fry, A. C. Gimson, J. D. O’Connor, O. M. Tooley. Happy memories.

The malice of inanimate objects

August 9th, 2014

It’s quite a time since I’ve had a good rant. On this occasion I think no-one could begrudge me. The room I am in has an en suite (or on sweet, as I have more than once seen it written) shower room and toilet. Yesterday I went in there and noticed that I had trouble closing the door when I came out again. I couldn’t see what was preventing the door closing, so I went inside and closed the door without trouble. Opened it, came out, pushed the door closed hard, and click! Then the door would not open again.

I won’t go into details of the various epithets I perpetrated. It took me a good thirty minutes to get the door open again. This left the lock in the state you can see in the picture. A new door will be needed.