The Seasons of Other Planets, Baseball in the Age of Austen, and the Latest Jeeves Novel
It’s spring here on Earth’s northern hemisphere. Do other planets have seasons? Marina Koren asks the experts to find out: “‘Why yes, it’s springtime on Pluto right now, at least in the northern hemisphere!’ says David Grinspoon, a scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. ‘And it has been since 1990.’”
I contributed to a National Review symposium on personal libraries. Read all the entries here. Terry Teachout writes about getting rid of books, and David Pryce-Jones remembers when novelist Hugh Nissenson kissed his volume of The Life of Goethe (1855) by G. H. Lewes, which was signed by Henry James. Nearly everyone’s shelves are in a mess. Take that, Marie Kondo.
John Wilson on baseball in the age of Austen: “Never mind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not to mention tales of Jane Austen as an espionage agent during the Napoleonic Wars or a Miss Marple avant la lettre. Why traffic in such fantasies when, without stretching the truth at all, we can marvel at Austen’s mention of baseball! It occurs in Northanger Abbey, where Austen says of her protagonist, Catherine Morland: ‘It was not very wonderful that Catherine . . . should prefer cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books.’”
Speaking of baseball, Mike Trout has signed a $430-million 12-year contract with Los Angeles Angels. Dave Zirin argues that huge contracts like this are bad for baseball. “Does Mike Trout deserve it? Of course he does. Baseball is a $10 billion-a-year business. The Angels have a $3 billion cable contract. And Mike Trout is the greatest player of his generation…The problem is that teams no longer see their financial fortunes tied primarily to putting a good product on the field. Revenue is tied less to ticket sales than to public subsidies for new stadiums, and sweetheart cable-television deals. Team owners have less incentive to pay the middle class of baseball talent, opting instead to organize their teams with haves and have-nots—a small group of lavishly paid players and then a precarious mass. Yes, the minimum baseball salary is $550,000 per year. But the average baseball career is between five and six years, with players finding themselves with few options once careers have ended.”
Mark McGinness writes that the second Jeeves novel commissioned by the Wodehouse estate—Ben Schott’s Jeeves and the King of Clubs—is “a triumph”: “Schott appears to have read—and remembered—all there is to know about this disparate duo. The characters and setting owe much to two of Plum’s best, Code of the Woosters (1938) and Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971). Set in Mayfair, London clubland and Worcestershire—Berkeley Mansions, the Drones, the Junior Ganymede and Brinkley Court—all the winning ingredients are there: Friday to Monday in the country, an angry knight (Sir Watkyn Bassett), an awesome aunt (Dahlia Travers), and a few chums from past novels (Percy Gorringe and Chuffy Chuffnell), his fellow Drones (Tuppy, Pongo and Catsmeat), two former fiancées (Madeline Bassett and Florence Craye) and, of course, the requisite luckless, lovestruck young couple. Add fixing a good first-night notice for Lady Florence at the Gaiety Theatre, trying to help Aunt Dahlia improve on the formula for Lea & Perrins, exposing a spook, Bertie impersonating a French and an Italian chef; and the flawless formula is plumb in place allowing the Byzantine plot to unfold. But what makes this new novel sing is Schott’s near pitch-perfect restoration of the Master’s musical prose.”
The 40-year quest for the world’s most expensive book and the woman who bought it: “A wooden box containing one of the most valuable books in the world arrives in Los Angeles on October 14, 1950, with little more fanfare—or security—than a Sears catalog. Code-named “the commode,” it was flown from London via regular parcel post, and while it is being delivered locally by Tice and Lynch, a high-end customs broker and shipping company, its agents have no idea what they are carrying and take no special precautions. The widow of one of the wealthiest men in America, Estelle Betzold Doheny is among a handful of women who collect rare books, and she has amassed one of the most spectacular libraries in the West. Acquisition of the Gutenberg Bible, universally acknowledged as the most important of all printed books, will push her into the ranks of the greatest book collectors of the era. Its arrival is the culmination of a 40-year hunt, and she treasures the moment as much as the treasure.”
Essay of the Day:
In The New Criterion, Paul Dean takes stock of a recent attempt to “find” Shakespeare’s library and the author’s surprising claim that Shakespeare was not “a literary man”:
“Breathlessly described by Kells as ‘a fun guy moving in a fun circle . . . a kind of punk poet, a proto-rockstar, a sixteenth-century Russell Crowe,’ he certainly sounds like the kind of person you want to avoid, but it is surely going a bit far to infer, from the fact that one William Saksper was hanged for robbery in 1248, that the later William ‘had credentials’ for criminality. (In any case, it is most unlikely that the robber was ‘an ancestor,’ as Kells asserts; Samuel Schoenbaum, his presumed source here, reminds us that Shakespeares ‘were thick on the ground in Warwickshire and the adjoining counties.’) Not everyone may know that ‘Willie Hughes, the beautiful boy-actor’ and supposed referent of ‘Mr W. H.’ in the dedication to the Sonnets, is an invention of Oscar Wilde’s, whereas the others in Kells’s list are real people. No one, to my knowledge, has ever produced evidence for Kells’s belief that Shakespeare is the subject of Jonson’s poem ‘On Poet-Ape’; the editors of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (2012) note that Jonson elsewhere described Dekker as a ‘poet-ape,’ but still feel no specific target is meant.
“Kells’s account of the composition and publication of the First Folio of 1623—a book, we learn, having ‘a sexy label bursting with bibliographical glamour’—is more contentious still…He describes the presence of eighteen previously unpublished plays in the Folio as ‘an enigma.’ It is nothing of the sort. The earlier publications, as Hemings and Condell stated in their preface, were unauthorized and inaccurate, and are here presented in their ‘official’ form (even though they are, as we know, still not perfect); the rest were unpublished because the company wanted to hold on to their copies. This is far too simple for Kells, who speculates that ‘Shakespeare had no role’ in these eighteen plays and that the men behind the Folio ‘simply selected, from a cache of available plays, texts that would fit in to the First Folio and could plausibly be passed off as Shakespeare’s.’ That category would have to include As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and The Tempest, among others. Why has more not been heard of the genius(es) who wrote these plays?
“For, according to Kells, Shakespeare was no genius. By the end of the book, the erstwhile ‘proto-rockstar’ cuts a sad figure. He was, we’re now told, a middleman, capitalizing on previous work by others, ‘a workaday dramatist with a talent for converting prior content into performable and enduring plays.’ He was only ‘accidentally talented,’ driven by commercial imperatives, ‘not what we think of today as a “literary” man’! This amazing view at least explains why his library has disappeared; he probably wasn’t much of a reader.”
Photo: St. Trudpert’s Abbey
Poem: Charles Baudelaire, “Cats” (translated by Jennifer Reeser)
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