Les Misérables

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Les Misérables (1862) by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables is a novel of towering stature, a dazzling illustration of early nineteenth century France, firmly in the ‘must read before I die’ category of world literature.

Les Miserables (Penguin Classics)by Victor Hugo

It has a depth of vision, underlying truth, moments of moving compassion, almost to the point of melodrama, but with a morality and a social conscience ahead of its time. If there is a problem, it is one of scale. How do you find the time to read, and absorb, over 1200 pages? In addition, Victor Hugo was anxious to put into the novel everything he researched about the entire period, and can digress at will. There is little doubt that it was his intention the book was more than a historical novel, and a knowledge of French history helps the reader follow the motives and intentions of Hugo’s fictional characters…

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Penguin, 2000) by James Thurber

You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”… 

The most famous of Thurber’s stories, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty first appeared in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939, 72 years ago, and was first anthologized in his book My World and Welcome to it. It has since been reprinted in James Thurber: Writings and Drawings, and is one of the most popular American short stories. It is considered one of Thurber’s “acknowledged masterpieces”. Thurber is known as a cartoonist and ‘humorist’ (‘Is there such a word? I wonder how anyone can apply for the position’?). The best introduction to Thurber is his own work. “James Thurber left his own monument. He created it . .  in the pages of the New Yorker.” (The Economist, Feb. 17, 1996.)  ‘Walter Mitty Syndrome‘ is a phrase occasionally used by psychiatrists and others in describing a person who prefers a fantasy world to reality, particularly if others consider him a failure, or the potential for real harm results from his behaviour. One example of such a man was Frank Abagnale, immortalised in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film  Catch Me If You Can. Another would be Arthur Orton, The Tichborne Claimant. Ironically, Thurber loved to send up the psychiatrists and others of whom he thought,  “You can fool too many of the people too much of the time”..   He was born in Columbus, Ohio, to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes (Mame) Fisher Thurber on December 8, 1894. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a “born comedienne” and “one of the finest comic talents I think I have ever known.” She was a practical joker, on one occasion pretending to be crippled and attending a faith healer revival, only to jump up and proclaim herself healed. She sometimes told startled visitors her husband locked her in the attic to prevent her running away with the postman! James Thurber died November 2 1961.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

“We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. “We can’t make it, sir. It’s spoiling for a hurricane, if you ask me.” “I’m not asking you, Lieutenant Berg,” said the Commander. “Throw on the power lights! Rev her up to 8,500! We’re going through!” The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. He walked over and twisted a row of complicated dials. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” he shouted. “Switch on No. 8 auxiliary!” repeated Lieutenant Berg. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” shouted the Commander. “Full strength in No. 3 turret!” The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. “The old man will get us through” they said to one another. “The Old Man ain’t afraid of Hell!” . . .

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Commitment Phobia

Remember Albert (George Segal) and Mollie (Kirstie Alley) in Look Who’s Talking ? When Albert says, “I’m going through a selfish phase..” Do you know someone like that?

There are many, many reasons why relationships break down. The focus here is on why men can often seem unable to commit to a relationship, why they procrastinate in being honest, often way past the point the woman has emotionally committed, taking him at his word. Many of these behaviours are non-verbal. Look beyond any reasonable levels of anxiety. It goes without saying women can behave in similar fashion, but even as a man, I recognize this phobia is particularly prone in men..

Commitment phobic men may be identified by SOME or ALL of the following behaviours:

They often have a history of short-term relationships and there is often an excuse that they haven’t met the right woman, or they justify their history by saying they still have plenty of time to settle down. If they have been married it is likely to have been for a short time.

They want a relationship but they also protect their freedom and space, so whether they recognize this or not, they are often attracted to long distance, or on-line relationships, and/or busy independent women. They are quick to move in on a woman they are attracted to, and they pursue ardently until they win the woman over.

They are very charming. They say and do all the right things and they can be very romantic. They are good salesmen in order to get their own needs met, but in reality they often have little concern for the woman’s feelings, as they tend to operate from a hidden agenda.

These men are usually very affectionate and loving. This is because in their mind the relationship is not going to be long term, so they feel free to give affection and love, knowing it won’t be forever. It isn’t long though before they suddenly begin to distance themselves, possibly by not contacting or not wanting to see her for days, or not including her in weekend arrangements, for example. This is because they subtly want to give the woman the message that they don’t want a long-term committed relationship, in short, the classic ‘cold feet’..

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The Atlantic Celts

The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? (1999) by Simon James

Rating: ★★★★★

The theory presented by Simon James in The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? is that the pre-Roman inhabitants of the British Isles were not a single people united by language and culture, that had invaded, destroyed or assimilated earlier unrelated peoples, nor indeed were they ethnically related to the Celts in mainland Europe. Discoveries in Britain of ‘La Tene’ style artifacts prove only the existence of trading links or raids to and from Europe.

The term ‘Celt’ was used by the Greeks and Romans as a designation for some of their barbarian neighbours to the north. ‘Celt’ as applied to the Scots, Welsh and Irish was not used before the eighteenth century, and appears to be an explanation entirely dependent on similarities in language. The term was quickly developed by other scholars to describe cultural or national identities.

In his 1707 work  Archaeologia Britannica , Oxford scholar Edward Lhuyd proposed that similarities in the Welsh, Breton, Cornish, Irish, and Scots Gaelic languages were attributable to a common European origin. In that same year, the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland created a new political identity: ‘British’. The same political pressures sought the assimilation of Ireland through the Act of 1800. The confusion, however, may have originated with Julius Caesar. He identified three major tribes within Gaul (France) prior to the attempted invasion of Britain, “Gaul comprises three areas, inhabited respectively by the Belgae, the Aquitaini, and a people who call themselves Celts, though we call them Gauls. All of these have different languages, customs and laws.” The idea that people living out on the islands of the Atlantic fringe might call themselves ‘Celts’ came much later – and in effect involved the adoption of an imaginary ancestry and heritage. The Britons, who according to the Welsh triads, called themselves Khymry, were not Gauls, never called themselves ‘Celts’ but may have been closer related to the Belgae or Aquitani..

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An appreciation of artists

What an artist creates and how he goes about it , in what choice of subject or medium, is not only his own business but his alone to judge.

Max Beckmann (1884- 1950) rejected abstract or non-representational painting, unlike so many of his contemporaries, and instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. ‘I hardly need to abstract things, for each object is unreal enough already, so unreal that I can only make it real by means of painting.’

Max Beckmann greatly admired Cézanne, but also Van Gogh, Blake, Rembrandt, Rubens and the Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance such as Bosch, or Bruegel. His style and method of composition are also rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.

Encompassing portraiture, landscape, still life, mythology and the fantastic, his work created a very personal, authentic version of modernism. Beckmann re-invented the triptych, and utilized this compositional form of medieval painting as a looking glass of contemporary humanity.

“Carnival” by Max Beckmann








From his beginnings as an artist until after World War II, Beckmann’s work reflects an era of radical change in both art and history. Many of Max Beckmann‘s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamour of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Persecuted by the Nazis, he was forced to flee his homeland and work in relative isolation while the war turned Europe upside down. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate.

Beckmann said “Height, width and depth are the three phenomena which I must transfer into one plane to form the abstract surface of the picture, and thus to protect myself from the infinity of space.. If the canvas is filled only with a two-dimensional conception of space we shall have applied art, or ornament. Certainly this may give us pleasure, though I myself find it boring as it does not give me enough visual sensation. To transform three into two dimensions is for me an experience full of magic, in which I glimpse for a moment that fourth dimension which my whole being is seeking.”

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