Samuel Beckett
Photograph: UPPA/Photoshot PAP/Photoshot

A new online database allows users to track down the location of every known letter, postcard, and correspondence by Samuel Beckett listed in a public archive. You can tbeckett.library.emory.edu.

© Harald Vatne
© Harald Vatne

“[W]hen he first arrived in Skjolden, Wittgenstein wasn’t exactly alone. He lodged in the village with the family of the local postmaster in one of the distinctive two-storey clapboard houses that huddle together where a fast-flowing river empties into the fjord. Skjolden today looks pretty much as it did in 1913, save for the village’s only hotel, a later arrival, where I stayed in a room with spectacular views down the V-shaped valley of Lustrafjord.

While he was not entirely free of human company in the village, Wittgenstein was at least able to eschew the sort of sophisticated society that tormented him in Cambridge (and his native Vienna, for that matter). In Skjolden, he wrote, “my day passes between logic, whistling, going for walks, and being depressed”. I suspect the highly convivial evening I spent eating a burger and drinking locally brewed craft beer in the hotel bar while guests watched English Premier League football would not have been to the philosopher’s taste.

It was during this first visit to Skjolden that Wittgenstein engaged a local builder to construct the house on Eidsvatnet, a little lake at the end of the fjord. It had three rooms: a small living room, a kitchen and bedroom. There was also an attic with a balcony. When Wittgenstein spent nine months at the house in 1936-37, working on what would become his second, posthumous masterpiece, Philosophical Investigations, villagers would see him in the distance pacing back and forth, pondering the complete overhaul of his views about the nature of logic and language.

Alois Pichler, who runs the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen, says Wittgenstein was “suffering a lot” during this sojourn — suffering that was partly philosophical (how, he wondered, do we unravel the confusions in which many of the discipline’s traditional problems consist?) and partly spiritual (how do we reckon with our own sins?). There was a meteorological dimension to this too. I was there in the mild, slightly damp Nordic summer. Wittgenstein endured an autumn and winter on the lake. By October of 1936, he was writing to a friend: “The weather has changed from marvellous to rotten. It rains like hell now.” The friend responded by sending Wittgenstein a sou’wester.

The only suffering I endured on my visit to “Austria” was caused by trying to keep up with Vatne as he powered up the narrow path with the aid of hiking poles. Once we reached the top, he showed me round the reconstructed house. There, I sat at a facsimile of Wittgenstein’s writing table by the living room window as I made an entry in the visitors’ book.

“We have tried to bring the house back to what it was,” Vatne says. He and his colleagues have succeeded spectacularly. Now that the house has been rebuilt on its glorious original site, the Wittgenstein Foundation plans to make it available to study groups and individual visitors. The foundation also has more ambitious plans to develop Skjolden as a destination for philosophically themed travel.”

Source: Jonathan Derbyshire, The Financial Times

This week, it was my great privilege to visit the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California. The beautiful Muir family home was restored from dereliction by the National Park Service, and pays tribute to the father of modern environmental conservation.

August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter in Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life
August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter in Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life

“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

— George Eliot, Middlemarch


Terrence Malick‘s A Hidden Life has debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It is the American filmmaker’s second work to be based on the events of the Second World War, and tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who was executed by the Nazis in 1943. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang has praised Malick’s latest work as a return to form and “a spiritual call to arms”:

“At its simplest level, A Hidden Life exists to disprove the snarling Nazi soldiers we hear telling Franz that his act of protest is meaningless and that no one will ever remember him. (They have admittedly already been disproved, thanks to the scholarship of Gordon Zahn and Thomas Merton, as well as a 2007 papal declaration of Jägerstätter as a martyr.) But it is also a call for moral vigilance in any era, the present one very much included…”

Source: The Los Angeles Times


Boyd Tonkin (NYRB) visits the Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain. He reflects on the painter’s religious background, his oft-overlooked writing talents, his interest in marginalised and working-class figures, and Victorian London as a European metropolis:

“Young Vincent often felt a failure. He endured loneliness and dejection—though nothing like the bouts of anguish and panic that would seize him in Provence—but he also felt the bittersweet melancholy of a dreamy, wandering outsider. He could go into raptures about autumn days in London, ‘especially in the streets in the evening, when it’s a bit foggy and the street-lamps are lit,’ while fading elm-leaves turn ‘the colour of bronze.’ His letters from England crackle with the descriptive and affective force of what, should he have chosen another fork on that pilgrim road, we would surely now call a born writer. Foggy Victorian London, where literature far outshone in status both the visual arts and music, helped make Van Gogh the artist he became and remained, even when the golden fields and cobalt skies of Provence blazed across his canvases.

‘He was a writer before he was a painter,’ insisted Carol Jacobi, as crowds flowed around us on the first day of public access to Van Gogh and Britain, the exhibition she has curated at the Tate Britain in London, next to the river Vincent loved to walk beside. ‘”Writing is like painting”: he says that thirty or forty times,’ she reminded me. Through his apprentice years, his writer’s pen obeyed him as his crayon or brush could not. Jacobi, curator for British Art 1850–1915 at the Tate, mentions an 1880 drawing titled Miners in the Snow at Dawn, completed in Belgium, where Van Gogh had gone to live and preach among the poor. It’s an early token of his new-found artistic ambitions. The ‘word picture’ that partners it in a letter is ‘beautifully accomplished, influenced by Dickens and Zola,’ she said. ‘But he’s struggling to express these things in visual terms.'”

Source: The New York Review of Books

“A 1935 letter in which Ernest Hemingway details his capture of a 500lb blue marlin, an escapade that is believed to have partly inspired his novel The Old Man and the Sea, has been sold for $28,000 (£22,000).” — The Guardian

samuel-beckett-john-haynes.jpgThe Beckett International Foundation at the University of Reading has announced that the next Beckett Research Seminar will take place on Saturday, 24 November 2018.

Tickets can be purchased on the door on the morning of the seminar, but they need to know numbers for catering so please email Mark Nixon at m.nixon@reading.ac.uk by Thursday 15 November if you wish to attend. As such please notify the organiser if you have any dietary requirements.

The event will include talks by Julie Bates (Trinity College Dublin), Pim Verhulst (University of Antwerp), Lucy Jeffery, and Shane Weller (University of Kent). You can find out more about the event on the The Samuel Beckett Society website.

“Roy Hargrove, a virtuoso trumpeter who became a symbol of jazz’s youthful renewal in the early 1990s, and then established himself as one of the most respected musicians of his generation, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 49.”

The New York Times

British-Library-Logo-and-Gate.jpg
I am both delighted and honoured to announce that RhysTranter.com has been selected by the British Library’s UK Web Archive “as an important part of Wales’ documentary heritage”. The site has become part of the repository’s permanent collection, where it will “remain available to researchers in the future”. The UK Web Archive is a partnership between the British Library, the National Library of Wales, and the National Library of Scotland.

Find out more about the UK Web Archive.

Anticipating a new production of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at New York City’s Lincoln Center, Colm Tóibín shares his observations on the iconic play.

Hugh Haughton
Hugh Haughton

In honour Hugh Haughton on his birthday, the Department of English and Related Literature, the University of York is hosting a poetic and scholarly “cerebration”. We commence on Friday 8 June with an evening of poetry, featuring readings by:

Gerald Dawe · Kit Fan · Bernard O’Donoghue · Caitríona O’Reilly · Peter Robinson (more…)

Celebrating the women’s civil rights movement

Today marks International Women’s Day, which has commemorated the struggle for women’s civil rights throughout the twentieth century. The day was originally known as International Working Women’s Day, and for most of its history has been connected with socialist movements and communist states such as China and Soviet Russia. In the mid-1970s, during the height of Second Wave Feminism, the UN recognised International Women’s Day and invited its member states to do the same.

Reads for IWD 2018

A new digital project exploring the representation of women in photography launched on Instagram today
Ilse Bing (American, b. Germany, 1899–1998). Self‑Portrait with Leica, 1931. Gelatin silver print, printed 1985. George Eastman Museum, purchase with funds from the Charina Foundation. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum. © Estate of Ilse Bing
Ilse Bing (American, b. Germany, 1899–1998). Self‑Portrait with Leica, 1931. Gelatin silver print, printed 1985. George Eastman Museum, purchase with funds from the Charina Foundation. Courtesy of the George Eastman Museum. © Estate of Ilse Bing

Object Women will feature images from across the history of photography, from the beginning of the medium in the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. New images will be released on weekdays over a two-month period, and each image will be accompanied by a brief written reflection by Cardiff University academic Alix Beeston.

The project draws on the extensive photographic holdings of the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography. Its focus is dispersed and idiosyncratic, taking in both the artistic and commercial uses of photography, as well as a wide range of technological and aesthetic forms and traditions. (more…)

Marc Farrant on the major international conference that sparked new ways of thinking about the South African Nobel laureate
Coetzee, John 2010 (Photo by Marsha Miller)
J. M. Coetzee

How did you first encounter J. M. Coetzee, and what was it that sparked the idea for co-organising a conference on Coetzee & the Archive?

Like many Coetzee readers my first encounter was with the novel Disgrace. I was studying for a Masters at UCL and Disgrace was a core text on the year-long module covering modern English literature from the late nineteenth-century. It was immediately obvious why the novel was the on course, not least from the mixed reactions it provoked. Indeed, it was the only text we covered that year to garner opprobrium from some students in class. It’s a difficult read, the opening scenes that feature a licentious older man preying on one of his students, followed by the rape of his own daughter, test a reader’s mettle. But, it seemed to me at the time and still does, the open hostility the novel received required that one either ignore or abnegate a great deal of the responsibility the text places on the reader: the demand to respond to the ethical issues posed in the work beyond the staid and inherited conventions of moral outrage; to respond to the subtlety of a complex narrative voice that constitutes one of the best ever representations of complicity in the literary tradition, of the complicity of a liberal and educated conscience in crisis. Disgrace broaches the difficult terrain between both redemption and salvation, neither of which will fully serve since both partake of a certain violence or act of exclusion that would appear to tarnish the self-righteous anger of the oppressed as much as the villainy of the oppressor. If readers nevertheless insist that the novel is irresponsible it is therefore irresponsible, I would add, in the sense of informing us that it is perhaps never possible to be responsible enough, that responsibility is always lacking. Given its slender size the above, plus the intricate folds of literary and theological allusions, and the critique of the rationalizing project of secular modernity, makes for quite a novel! (more…)

A conference at the University of York • 17-19 May 2018

This conference marks the publication of 30 books in the two book series Historicizing Modernism and Modernist Archives with Bloomsbury Academic.

Archival excavation and detailed contextualisation is becoming increasingly central to scholarship on literary modernism. In recent years, the increased – and often online – accessibility and dissemination of previously unpublished or little-known texts has led to paradigm-shifting scholarly interventions across a range of canonical and lesser-known authors, neglected topics, and critical methodologies including genetic criticism, intertextuality, book history, and historical documentation. This trend is only bound to increase as large-scale digitisation of archival materials gathers pace, and existing copyright restrictions gradually lapse.

These two book series have been at the forefront of this burgeoning trend, and this international conference will take stock of these developments. Above all, it will also point forwards, towards future avenues of research. The authors and editorial board members connected with the series will reflect upon the ‘state of the art’ regarding archive-based research within their particular sub-discipline, connecting this to Modernism Studies as a whole. The provisional paper titles listed below reflect their responses to this invitation. (more…)