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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