British Actors Read Poignant Poetry from World War I

The First World War (1914-1918) changed Britain to a degree that was unthinkable in 1914. Pre-war certainties and values such as honor, fatherland and progress disintegrated on the battlefields and trenches in France and Belgium. New technology such as tanks, machine guns, grenades, flame throwers and poison gas were used to destroy the enemy; constant fire for days on end was intended to break the soldiers in the trenches. Unspeakable horrors led to psychological problems of unknown proportions.

Coping with these horrors during and after The Great War (as it's still called in Britain today) seemed like a Herculean task to poets - how do you put the unspeakable into words? Some poets, e.g. Rupert Brooke, still celebrated the heroism of the English soldiers (e.g., 1914 II. Safety), whereas others, such as Wilfred Owen, tried to describe the horrors of this war (e.g., Dulce et Decorum Est).

Every year on the Sunday closest to November 11, Britain remembers the dead of the First World War. For Remembrance Day 2012, famous British actors were asked to recite First World War poetry. The finished clips were to be shown on TV that day. The video above shows three actors reciting four poems by Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen (click the names of the actors for information about them and the titles of the poems for the full text):

  1. Sean Bean reads Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth"
  2. Gemma Arterton reads Wilfred Owen's "Arms and the Boy"
  3. Sophie Okonedo reads Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier"
  4. Sean Bean reads Wilfred Owen's "The Last Laugh"

Bonus material:

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Vladimir Nabokov Marvels Over Different “Lolita” Book Covers

In this short excerpt from a TV program called "USA: The Novel," Vladimir Nabokov comments on different foreign editions of his novel Lolita. The individual covers he discusses are listed here; the full program is available here, and it contains some memorable quotes by the author (from chapter 1: "Mr Nabokov, would you tell us why it is that you detest Dr. Freud?" - "I think he's crude, I think he's medieval, and I don't want an elderly gentleman from Vienna with an umbrella inflicting his dreams upon me. I don't have the dreams that he discusses in his books, I don't see umbrellas in my dreams or balloons.").

Finding a publisher for Lolita proved to be rather difficult for Nabokov. A December 1953 review of the manuscript said: "It is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation. [...] I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” (Get more information at Stanford's "The Book Haven") Lolita was first published in 1955 (original cover here) and has since been translated into many languages with a wide variety of cover designs (find a good collection at this site).

Shortly after Lolita's publication, Nabokov discussed his novel on the CBC program "Close Up": see part one and part two.

Bonus: Little known detail - Nabokov held the post of curator of lepidoptera at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology. He collected many butterflies and developed a theory of butterfly migration which disputed all previous theories and wasn't taken seriously by biologists then. Only recently did genetic studies vindicate his once bold theory. Some of Nabokov's beautiful drawings of the butterflies he studied can be enjoyed courtesy of Flavorwire.

You can find this video housed in our collection of 235 Cultural Icons.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

Passages from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: The Film

Due to its stylistic and linguistic complexity, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake ranks among the most difficult works of fiction. And that is why virtually no filmmaker has ever tried to adapt Joyce's final work for the screen. But after Mary Manning Howe adapted passages from the book for the stage (listen to her reading from Finnegans Wake here), American animator Mary Ellen Bute accepted the challenge and turned Manning's play into a film.

Sadly, Mary Ellen Bute's short films are almost forgotten today, but from the 1930s to 1950s her abstract musical shorts were known to a wide audience. Don't miss her first color film from 1938.

Between 1965 and 1967, Bute created her last film, and only feature film, Passages from Finnegans Wake. The movie was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and named Best Debut of the Year (1965). The video above shows only the opening sequence, but the whole film can be enjoyed online courtesy of UbuWeb.

Bonus: You can read Roger Ebert's 1968 review of Bute's film here. He admits that he didn't enjoy it too much, but concedes this may have been because he hadn't actually read the book.

By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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