Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pope Benedict

I clipped this photo from the front page of the Financial Times. On the FT's salmon-pink newsprint, it looks like a painting. Even here, the question "What time is this?" comes to mind, looking at these ancient white folk, symbols of their institutions. The trappings are intact, but nothing is really immune now to the great upheaval, in which everything established is suspect. Benedict gamely plays out the role he must have sought. He apologizes, but it does no good. In The Leopard, the Prince tells his priest that buying time is the only point. The world has changed, so a prince does what he can to buy his children safe passage. The Pope may have a longer view, but the Queen? Harder to know. Neither shows any sign of letting go.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jane Austen

Until yesterday, I'd never read anything by Jane Austen, but I greatly admire the mid-1990s film of Persuasion from which the still above is taken. After watching it, I found a copy of the book on my shelves, finishing it around noon today. It's wonderfully written. Around the time the film was made, my cousin Bente lent me a copy of Trollope's Dr. Thorne, which I read overnight, having to give it back the next day and depart. She deemed it the best of Trollope, and I'm inclined to agree. Concision is a virtue it shares with Persuasion (or I'd never have finished it in time). This wasn't Trollope's long suit. Austen reminds me of Sei Shonagon, the 12th-century author of The Pillow Book. That book is alive with satire; short, vivid accounts of what she saw and heard; and strongly held but nuanced sympathies and antipathies. Their worlds were different, but each found herself in circumstances that permitted very close observation of the "set" to which they belonged - societies of men with which women negotiated. The Pillow Book sets down its author's observations from life, while Persuasion transmutes what Austen saw into imagined characters and situations. Both books give us a sense of the women behind them.