“He’s reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac, it’s a helping hand that makes you feel wonderfully bland”
The first I’d ever heard of Balzac was in the above song lyrics from the Britpop classic ‘Country House’ by Blur. I loved that song when it came out, but then I loved all things Britpop back in the mid-nineties. ‘Country House’ was the single that beat Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ to the number one slot, back when people cared about the singles chart. It was the beginning of a faux rivalry between the two that would result in both bands going on to sell lots of records. As a fan of both groups at the time, I loved the whole affair, but it was clearly absolute nonsense. This stuff was in the actual news for goodness sake, and not just the tabloid press, it was the number one story on the BBC news.
I wonder what Balzac would have made of it all. Probably not much. He was French and unlikely to have been overly interested in Britpop. Particularly because it all took place 145 years after his death.
I later came across Balzac when I was studying for my degree in French Studies. There was a significant literary component to my course, so studying Balzac was inevitable. Unfortunately, as I was struggling to master French literacy at the time, reading literature in the language was a little beyond me. I couldn’t find an English translation of the Balzac novel we were supposed to read (Le Colonel Chabert) so I chose to study the other authors on the reading list instead – namely Stendhal and Flaubert, for whom the chosen texts were readily available in English. By the end of the course my French was good enough to have a go at the original texts, but by that stage I’d chosen to specialise in other areas – more of the aforementioned Stendhal (on the basis that I’d already read his stuff) and quite a lot of French theatre, (on the basis that plays are quicker and easier to read than novels).
So I never got around to reading any Balzac. I’m not sure if I missed out too much. Mrs Proclaims has read quite a bit, indeed that is predominantly what she spends most of her time doing these days. We met on our degree course. She was the one who came top of all the classes we were in, whereas I was the one who rolled into the lectures bleary-eyed and hungover most of the time. She seems to not hate Balzac, but I’m not sure she loves his work, so much as she enjoys the act of studying. We’re very different to each other in that regard.
Maybe one day I’ll read some Balzac. Although, if I’m honest, the Prozac does sound more appealing.
Today I’m taking the unusual step of honouring (through the medium of doodle) a literary figure whose works I am actually familiar with. Because even I have seen The Muppets’ Christmas Carol…
I jest of course, I’ve read actual books by Charles Dickens. And watched their on-screen adaptations. My favourite one to read was A Tale of Two Cities. My favourite one to watch was the aforementioned Muppet classic, but I generally enjoy a good Dickens tale, both to read and to watch.
And to star in of course, because I have appeared in two stage versions of Oliver! The first was for a primary school Christmas concert. My class did a rendition of ‘Food Glorious Food’. I played the pivotal role of ‘nondescript orphan’. My costume was a bin bag.
The second time was much later in my scholastic career, when I was in sixth form. I had a mate who was quite big on being in school productions and he got the plum role of none other than Bill Sykes. Me and my other friend auditioned to keep him company (and also cos we thought it would be a good way to meet girls – it was not). We were given the unforgettable roles of ‘First Bow Street Runner’ and ‘Second Bow Street Runner’.
A Bow Street Runner was a sort of policeman. We had a line each. We also got to do a comedy run, which wasn’t nearly as funny as we hoped it would be.
I was First Bow Street Runner. My line was “Stand Back! Stand Back!”
Surprisingly Second Bow Street Runner was a slightly meatier role. He got the line “This gentleman seems to know the lady.” He made the most of it and delivered it in a slightly different way for each of the performances.
Oh the fun we had.
It’s Friday, so hang up your scruples and enjoy a few vices.
But don’t do anything too Machiavellian.
Unless you want to of course.
I have gone with a Machievellian theme for this week’s ‘Artist’s Corner’
Because this week I present my fairly rubbish drawing of none other than Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, a man as underhand and duplicitous as they came.
I don’t know, I haven’t done even the most basic research for this.
Maybe he just wrote stuff with duplicitous character in and he was actually a nice chap.
Although, if my artistic rendition is to be believed (and in the end what other evidence do we have?) he probably was a little bit naughty.
Ah, tis Friday, the day that cometh at the end of the week and doth mark the weekend.
And, after something of a European tour of literary greats, I return to these shores for one of our own. And if Shakespeare is very much the scourge of the GCSE English student, then Chaucer must surely be the equivalent for the English A-level student.
Not that I have an English A-level, nor have I read any Chaucer. I think there’s a copy of The Canterbury Tales on my bookshelf but I can’t say it’s ever been opened.
I have been to Canterbury though, which must count for something.
This week’s literary great, captured in my inimitable artistic style, is one Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a German writer of not inconsiderable repute.
As with so many of the literary figures I’ve featured, I’ve never read anything he’s written, but I hear he was pretty good. Maybe I’ll learn German. There’s a whole load of Goethe Institutes dotted around the world where I could do that if I had the money and the time to do so.
Alas I have neither at the moment. I could always read a translation of his works, but where’s the fun in that?
Another Friday, another, frankly dreadful, portrait of a literary great. And today we travel to Russia to meet Alexander Pushkin, who apparently was quite good at writing. Not so good at duelling though by all accounts and he met his premature end at the hands of his French brother-in-law, who apparently had a bit of a thing for Pushkin’s wife. It was all a bit unfortunate really, but Pushkin had already churned out a fair bit of literature by that point so it wasn’t all bad.
Maybe I’ll read some of it one day. Not in Russian obviously, that would be really hard. But I expect some of it has been translated into English by now.
Continuing my theme of drawing third-rate portraits of well know literary figures, here is my attempt at capturing the reasonably talented Dante Alighieri, who is perhaps best known for his Divine Comedy. I haven’t read it, but I do enjoy a good comedy so I’m sure I’d really like it. He is cited as an influence on many subsequent literary greats, including, but not limited to, Milton, Chaucer and Tennyson.
But his greatest legacy is probably the fact that the ‘Inferno’ bit of the Divine comedy was the inspiration behind Dan Brown’s fourth Robert Langdon novel of the same name. Unlike the Divine Comedy, I’ve actually read Dan Brown’s Inferno and I can honestly say I didn’t dislike it as much as some of Dan Brown’s other novels. Which is high praise indeed.
Another Friday, another doodle and, as per the last two weeks here is yet another depiction of a great literary figure. And it’s none other than the great Spanish writer and one of the world’s first novelists, Miguel de Cervantes.
He’s probably best known for writing Don Quixote, which to be honest I’ve never read. I don’t even know what it’s about. But more educated people seem to think it’s quite good.
For ages I thought it was called Donkey Hotay and wondered why one of the first novels ever written would be about a donkey called Hotay. I realise the stupidity of that particular thought process, not least the fact that if it was actually written about a donkey, the title would have the Spanish word for donkey and it would’ve been called El Burro Hotay.
I might one day write a book called Donkey Hotay and, with any luck, it’ll be just as seminal as Cervantes’ novel. And then I won’t seem so stupid after all.
It’s Friday and therefore time for my regular doodle, which this week continues the theme I started last week of producing portraits of some of history’s greatest literary and cultural figures.
And what better person to follow on from Shakespeare, in these times of Brexit, than the man some might consider to be his Francophone equivalent, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, otherwise known as Molière?
Although he really wasn’t as good as Shakespeare truth be told.
And I should know.
I studied a few Molière plays during my university days. It’s probably my main claim to being vaguely intellectual.
Although I didn’t much understand them to be honest
Today begins a new theme on Artist’s Corner. For the next few weeks I’ll be producing portraits of some of history’s greatest literary and cultural figures. Because what better tribute to these great minds than a slightly rubbish doodle?
Is this a portrait of Shakespeare I see before me?
Er, yes it is.