Mark Twain

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Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain, 1894.

Mark Twain died 100 years ago today, April 21st, 1910, and the anniversary is being marked in America by a variety of events throughout the year, some of which are listed on this dedicated site. I’ve always been grateful to Twain for cheering a portion of my dismal school days with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of two books we were forced to read that I actually enjoyed. (The other was Lord of the Flies; both stories, perhaps significantly, concern Wild Boys.) I’ve wanted to re-read Huckleberry Finn for years, perhaps now would be a good time to actually do so.

Unlike many writers of his generation, Twain’s work still seems vital today, and not only his fiction. His broadsides and polemics return continually to basic issues of tolerance and humanity and are often as relevant now as they were a century ago. Twain had little patience for the hypocrisies of his fellows when it came to matters of religion, warfare or the treatment of other human beings; like his contemporary, Oscar Wilde, he’s always been endlessly quotable. Consider these two extracts:

Citizenship? We have none! In place of it we teach patriotism which Samuel Johnson said a hundred and forty or a hundred and fifty years ago was the last refuge of the scoundrel—and I believe that he was right. I remember when I was a boy and I heard repeated time and time again the phrase, ‘My country, right or wrong, my country!’ How absolutely absurd is such an idea. How absolutely absurd to teach this idea to the youth of the country. True Citizenship at the Children’s Theater, 1907

But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me. Letter to Mrs FG Whitmore, February 7, 1907

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…then wonder what Twain would have to say about America’s current crop of blustering yahoos with their flags and crosses and misspelled signs.

A copy of the first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, illustrated throughout by EW Kemble, can be downloaded at the Internet Archive. For Twain’s dim view of the Bible and its adherents, see his Letters from the Earth. The Tesla Memorial Society has another photograph of Twain in the great inventor’s laboratory.

Gertrude Käsebier’s crystal gazer

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The Crystal Gazer (or The Magic Crystal, 1904).

The photographs of Gertrude Käsebier (1852–1934) seem to be popular with art directors; the picture above was used on the sleeve of the Spangle Maker EP by the Cocteau Twins in 1984 and her Silhouette of a Woman / A Maiden at Prayer (1899) appeared on the cover of the Nonesuch recording of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony no. 3 in 1991.

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The Spangle Maker by The Cocteau Twins (design by 23 Envelope).

Gertrude Käsebier at the Art of the Photogravure

Previously on { feuilleton }
Karl Blossfeldt
The Dawn of the Autochrome
Fred Holland Day
The Door in the Wall
Edward Steichen
Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla

The Dawn of the Autochrome

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Young couple with motor car, c.1910. Photographer unknown.

An exhibition of extraordinary Edwardian colour photographs opens today at the National Media Museum, London Bradford.

This exhibition will open on the 25th May. Marking one hundred years of the first practical process for colour photography—the Autochrome, invented by the Lumiere brothers—the National Media Museum presents a major summer show on what has been described as “perhaps the most beautiful of all the photographic processes”.

Today, we take colour photography for granted. Yet, for many years colour photographs remained an elusive dream. One hundred years ago, the dream became a reality when the first fully practical method of colour photography appeared—the Autochrome process.

The Dawn of Colour celebrates centenary of the Autochrome and the birth of colour photography. It reveals the Edwardian world as you have probably never seen it before—in full, vibrant colour. The past isn’t always in black and white.

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The photographer’s daughter Christina at Lulworth cove,
Dorset in 1913 by Mervyn O’Gorman.

Guardian autochrome gallery

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fred Holland Day
The Door in the Wall
Edward Steichen
Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla

A literary recluse: The mystery of Pynchon

pynchon_simpsons.jpgThe cult writer is about to publish his first novel for nine years. But the best-selling author of V and Gravity’s Rainbow remains an enigma to his millions of fans. By Louise Jury

August 17, 2006
The Independent

He is so elusive a writer that he makes Harper Lee appear a socialite. He gives no interviews and shuns all photo opportunities. Thomas Pynchon, cult figure of American prose, is a nightmare for his publicists.

But the mystery surrounding the 69-year-old author will serve only to increase the clamour when his next novel, Against the Day, is published in December simultaneously in the UK and the US. It will be his first novel in nine years and only his sixth—plus a collection of early fiction—since his astonishing debut with V in 1963.

Finally announcing the date yesterday, Dan Franklin of Jonathan Cape, his British publisher, said that to have a new work was “incredibly exciting”. He added: “Against the Day is an epic that is awesome in its scope and imagination.”

Continue reading “A literary recluse: The mystery of Pynchon”