Graphic novel, The Sky over Louvre by Bernar Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carriere covers the Reign of Terror when Robespierre and the Jacobins maintained power through terrorism. Revolutionary and artist Jacques-Louis David is looking for a model for his polemic painting. Jules Stern, a young man from Khazaria, comes to Paris in search of his mother and to meet with David. David is struck by Stern’s looks and believes he’ll be perfect for his painting of Bara.
The book’s illustrations include sumptuous images from the Louvre’s art collection and drawings of 18th century France in the midst of the Reign of Terror, which followed the French Revolution. While I know about Robespierre, the Jacobins and their purge and violence to achieve ideological purity, I wasn’t clear on all the players. At times I had to reread The Sky over Louvre to stay clear on the meaning or to make sure I understood what was going on. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and would read another in this series of books set in the Louvre.
At first I didn’t think I’d ever get into The Warden’s story. Whether a clergyman in Victorian England kept his £800 stipend or not seemed insignificant, but Trollope did get to me and when Mr. Harding is attacked by the press thanks to John Bold, I was won over. I suppose I have a soft spot for anyone who’s bullied, though I also kept wondering about this money.
Anthony Trollope’s novel The Warden centers on a dilemma over the money the Warden, a clergyman who’s in charge of the welfare of a dozen bedesmen (also spelled beadsmen), to whom a wealthy man bequeathed money to support in their old age, is accused of getting too much money himself. The mild mannered Mr. Harding isn’t prepared for a scandal. He wasn’t taking a farthing more than allotted but John Bold, who’s sweet on Harding’s daughter feels the whole agreement is a major injustice.
Should more go to the bedesmen? How much? I did find the story to be an effective tug-of-war because Harding’s Archdeacon son-in-law seemed to be a personification of what can go wrong with the clergy.
When I found out that £800 is over $100,000 in today’s economy, I did see John Bold’s side better. I will say Trollope succeeded in creating realistic tension between the characters and added to it by making Harding’s daughter Eleanor in love with Bold and his other daughter Susan the Archdeacon’s wife.
I was at a disadvantage not knowing all these titles: Warden, Archdeacon, bedesmen, but soon enough I got the gist.
By the novel’s end, Mr. Harding did impress me with his willingness to abandon his stipend, his home and comfort, though it cost him the esteem of those in his circle who thought he was crazy.
I mentioned earlier that like many English books, films or television programs, even members of the clergy don’t seem particularly religious. It’s like this society just sees religion as an organization that has a code for a good life. Mr. Harding could work for the Boy Scouts. I think C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Green’s books show more spirituality. These writers wonderfully approach spiritual topics using flawed characters. (I suppose a modern version of this could show Green Peace or another organization. Human nature doesn’t change much. Mr. Harding did know and befriend the bedesmen and they got what they are do.)
A young and brash, John Bold was a surgeon, who knew how to take things apart and not how to heal or put things together. He had a valid point, but never thought through how to best handle it and ran off to the press, to a sensationalizing journalist who writes anonymously. I could see this updated by cutting out the middleman (journalist) and just typing away on the internet and things getting way out of hand. His passion reminds me of what Eric Hoeffer refers to in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, which I read at the same time as The Warden, coincidentally. Bold is dogmatic and rushes to a lawyer and the press, which I think we’ve learned can make things worse, while Harding, whom I preferred, questioned himself a lot, sometimes too much, and truly knew these bedesmen and shared friendship, though maybe not on equal social terms, while I don’t believe Bold visited them. (I may have forgotten if he did.)
Trollope’s satire worked in how he crafted the Archdeacon, Bold and the rest of the characters. Because Mr. Harding describes his thoughts and understanding of his duty so well, I came to like him.
The best book, definitely the best memoir, that I’ve read in years, The Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg chronicles her experience of imprisonment in USSR during the Stalin era. Since she saw no evidence against her colleague, Ginzburg refused to wrongly condemn him as a Trotskyite. Thus she was imprisoned for over a decade.
A poet and writer, Ginzburg writes of how she was torn from her husband and two young children and imprisoned in 1937 for over a decade. Ginzburg was a faithful Communist, but that didn’t matter. Stalin’s henchmen would imprison millions, many of whom agreed with him.
I was astonished by Ginzburg’s bravery. She stood her ground when pressured with the threat of torture unless she signed documents that falsely charged her with terrorism and other crimes. Her refusal saved her life since admitting to those crimes would allow the Soviet government to execute her. Even when interrogated in marathon sessions, Ginzburg stuck to her principles.
To communicate, Ginzburg and her fellow prisoners ingeniously devised codes consisting of taps on the walls and songs. This was how they shared news of the outside and changes in the prison. Prisoners were allowed to write home, but their letters were censored. Ginzburg eventually developed a code with her mother so rather than using her own name or her family members’ names, using fictitious names of imaginary children. So rather than asking about her husband, she’d make up a little boy’s name and ask if he’s back from camp to find out if her husband had been released from prison. The codes were quite clever and worked.
Conditions in the prison, train to the work camp and work camp were horrific and Ginzburg described them vividly, but the dignity and bravery she showed throughout the book, elevated her writing so that I could keep reading. She also provided astute observations about the people she was imprisoned with. Some retained their haughty airs, while others banded together and sacrificed to help a sick woman who needed food or who needed information on how the system worked.
This was a period that knew about at a textbook level of generalities and read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’sOne Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I now want to reread. Ginzburg’s book made this chapter of history crystal clear. There is a 2009 movie but I doubt I could watch it. If the torture and injustice are accurately depicted, it’s probably too much for me and if they aren’t I’d be upset by the cherry-coating.
In the Gilded Age till Al Capone gained power, aldermen Bathhouse John and Hinky Dink Kenna dominated Chicago’s city council. Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan’s Bosses in Lusty Chicago, takes readers back to the late 1890s to tell the rags to riches (and power) story of John Coughlin and Michael Kenna who came to determine mayoral races, city services like transportation rights and contracts, the spread of prostitution and gambling.
Both were characters. Bathhouse strove to take men’s fashion in a new direction by wearing flamboyant colors. He became a national sensation for his emerald green jackets, chartreuse vests and patent leather shoes. Coughlin also dabbled in poetry for which he was best known for Dear Midnight of Love, renowned doggerel if ever there was such…
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