Tag: James Baldwin

Home for Christmas

Friday, 22 December, 2017 0 Comments

Mademoiselle was an American women’s magazine first published in 1935. It was popular and profitable for six decades but changing tastes and the arrival of new media platforms led to a decline in readership and a loss of advertising revenue. The November 2001 issue was the final one. Fashion was the primary focus but Mademoiselle was also known for publishing stories by authors such as Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, Jane Smiley, Paul Bowles, Barbara Kingsolver and Alice Munro.

In 1955, Mademoiselle published “Home for Christmas” by Elizabeth Bowen. The theme is the returns and reunions that are hallmarks of the season but there’s another current running through the piece and it’s manifest in the final brace of sentences: “Dearer than memory, brighter than expectation is the ever returning now of Christmas. Why else, each time we greet its return, should happiness ring out in us like a peal of bells?” In this way, Bowen lets us know that the spiritual and Christian aspects of Christmas are central to its meaning. The opening of the story is magical:

“This is meeting-again time. Home is the magnet. The winter land roars and hums with the eager speed of return journeys. The dark is noisy and bright with late-night arrivals — doors thrown open, running shadows on snow, open arms, kisses, voices and laughter, laughter at everything and nothing. Inarticulate, giddying and confused are those original minutes of being back again. The very familiarity of everything acts like a shock. Contentment has to be drawn in slowly, steadingingly, in deep breaths — there is so much of it. We rely on home not to change, and it does not, wherefore we give thanks. Again Christmas: abiding point of return. Set apart from its mystery, mood and magic, the season seems in a way to stand outside time. All that is dear, that is lasting, renews its hold on us: we are home again.”

Bowen's Court

What a perfect phrase: “Christmas: abiding point of return.” Tomorrow, here, the Christmas toast at Bowen’s Court.


The black Gatsby

Tuesday, 25 August, 2015 1 Comment

The gay editor Aaron Hicklin asked a group of people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and national correspondent for the Atlantic, began his list with The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. “Basically the finest essay I’ve ever read,” he says of it. Next is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I’m a sucker for efficiency. This book gets so much out of what is, ultimately, a rather slim story. I adore it,” writes Coates.

A rather slim story? Is he talking about length or bulk? At 180 pages, Gatsby is compact, but it’s still bigger than Between the World and Me, the latest Coates book, which weighs in at a slender 152 pages. Although Coates is no Fitzgerald (his writing is too unwieldy), he does offer an occasional flash of Fitzgerald-like sparkle: “The robbery of time is not measured in lifespans but in moments. It is the last bottle of wine you have just uncorked but have not time to drink.”

Gatsby And now, the real thing: “As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.” Does this passage suggest that Fitzgerald was an early advocate of #BlackLivesMatter or just another shill for white privilege? According to The Uppity Negro, aka Joshua L. Lazard, the Gatsby masterpiece is an embodiment of American Blackness and Baz Luhrmann’s recent film of the novel, thanks to “hip hop music set in a story from the 1920s”, brings to the surface what had been hidden. The story of Jay Gatsby — “a man who didn’t fit in the society that he claimed and so desperately wanted to join” — is the story of black America. Snippet:

“Even when he had entrée, and actually created his own entrée, he was a lonely man surrounded by hundreds; he was alone at his own party. The blackness of it was that he was in and of himself a ‘second America’ created because of the forces of the society that dictated what success was and his struggle to obtain it. He was met with the existential question that Black America faces today: now that I have it, what do I do with it? Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but as the parties ended, Gatsby fired his waitstaff, New York was plunged into a post Gatsby era, and for many as Obama has ascended to the presidency, twice now, the phrase post racial constantly gets thrown around careless like a champagne bottle at a mansion party in West Egg.”

Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, as Robert Browning said. Thursday, here, in keeping with our times, the gay Gatsby and the feminist Gatsby. Tomorrow, Gatsby and robotics. Honestly.