Tuesday, March 13, 2018

19thC Graduate Student Symposium 2018

This coming Sunday, March 18th, is the 15th annual Graduate Student Symposium in the History of Nineteenth-Century Art, co-sponsored by the Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art (AHNCA) and the Dahesh Museum of Art. It will be held at the Dahesh in NYC. The Mervat Zahid Cultural Foundation has generously provided the Dahesh Museum of Art Prize of $1,000 for the best paper, and the prize also carries with it the opportunity for publication in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide. I was among the jury members who selected the papers this year, and I will be chairing one of the groups of papers. Below is the list of papers, with summary abstracts of each available for reading on the AHNCA website. One of the papers addresses this important, fantastic painting: Edouard Manet's Mademoiselle V ... in the Costume of an Espada, 1862, oil on canvas, in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other papers are on topics like harems, tigers, pickaxes, and Caribbean exoticism. It promises to be a great day of papers!

  • Lucie Grandjean, Université Paris Nanterre, “John Vanderlyn and the Circulation of Panoramic Images in Nineteenth-Century America: Promoting and Diffusing ‘a love and taste for the arts’”
  • Remi Poindexter, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, “Martinique's Dual Role in Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny's Voyage Pittoresque”
  • Alexandra Morrison, Yale University, “Unfaithful: Julie Duvidal de Montferrier’s Copies”
  • Siddhartha V. Shah, Columbia University, “Tooth and Claw: Chivalry and Chauvinism in the Jungles of British India”
  • Clayton William Kindred, Ohio State University, “The Harem in Absentia: Analyzing Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ’s The Gate of the Harem
  • Jennifer Pride, Florida State University, “The Poetics of Demolition: The Pickax and Spectator Motifs in Second Empire Paris”
  • Kathryn Kremnitzer, Columbia University, “Tracing Mlle Victorine in the Costume of an Espada
  • Galina Olmsted, University of Delaware, “’Je compte absolument sur vous’”: Gustave Caillebotte and the 1877 Exhibition” 
  • Maria Golovteeva, University of St. Andrews, “Photography as Sketch in the Works of Fernand Khnopff”  
  • Isabel Stokholm, University of Cambridge, Fathers & Sons? Two Old Peredvizhniki and a New Generation of Russian Artists, 18901914”

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Top 10 Read Novels: 2014-2017

Back in September 2014, I posted highlights on the best novels I had read between the years 2010-2013. This was a “sequel” of sorts to the post I had done previously on the same topic from2005-2009. Here it is 3 1/2 years later, and I’m posting a follow-up, highlighting my favorite works of fiction that I read over the past 4 years. I’ve been meaning to write this for a few months now, but my dear friend SVH contacted me the other day about a program her library is doing, identifying favorite novels as written about by bloggers, so I’ve been inspired to catch-up on my list-making. As I noted on my previous posts, these are just the self-rated 5-star novels I read between 2014 and 2017, not that they were necessarily published during that time, although a few actually were. (And don't forget about my annual round-up of reading such as this latest post in 2017.) Here’s my 2014-2017 countdown, from 10 to 1…

10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015). Anyone who commutes on trains and subways—myself included-—knows all about the experience of subtly observing other people. Others prefer the experience of looking outside the window. I do both. This book took that quotidian practice and added a twist: an affair and a murder, as witnessed by a self-professed alcoholic tragedian named Rachel. The plot clearly is indebted to Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel 4:50 from Paddington in which Mrs. McGillicuddy witnesses a murder on a train from the window of her own compartment as it passes the other one (a brilliant set-up, I might add), but Hawkins then turns this novel into a story about what it means to be a woman in a world still dominated by masculine power.
9. Emma by Jane Austen (1816). Written just over 200 years ago, Austen’s literary classic still can entertain. Emma is considered to be one of Austen’s best developed novels, and certainly the character of Emma Woodhouse is someone worth recognized as one of literature’s greatest heroines: a dedicated, kind, intelligent woman who also has ambitions, faults, and makes grave mistakes, but through these experiences finds the love she’s been unaware of having looked for all along. That said, I confess I do prefer Pride and Prejudice (1813), which I’ve read twice, and the character of Elizabeth Bennett, over Emma.
8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005). This book is supposed to be a young adult novel, but I struggle with that classification because the subject matter is a bit emotionally intense at times. When Death is your narrator, you know the story is going to be dark. Young orphaned Liesel Meminger grows up in Nazi-occupied Germany. Fascinated by books she steals them in order to learn how to read, but she also discovers through her daily actions some important, hard lessons about survival and life itself. I challenge your heart not to break near the end.
7. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (2013). Over the past 4 years I discovered Atkinson, and I’ve since read and loved her novels Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995), Case Histories (2004), and A God in Ruins (2015), but the first book I read by her, Life after Life, gets on this list as my favorite so far. Her writing style can seem abrupt at times, but this adds to the flow of the storyline and the quick-wittedness of some of her characters. In 1910 Ursula Todd is born and then dies; in 1910 Ursula Todd is born and survives. This is not a story about reincarnation, but simultaneous incarnations, and how the decisions we make, or are made for us, determine the lives we live.
6. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016). This book won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and justifiably deserves it for its unapologetic story of American slavery and its poetic tone throughout. Whitehead’s book is a story of survival, mostly seen through the eyes of Cora, a runaway slave, but the author also adds magical realism with the creation of an actual underground railroad whose road to freedom is fraught with new experiences along the way.
5. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1886). This is the first time I’ve ever read Hardy, and at first I wasn’t completely sure I liked it. People say he's dark, and it's true. But about halfway through the novel I realized I was reading the story of my working-class ancestors in England—not their actual lives, of course, but the essence of what their stark daily lives must have been like. No other Victorian novelist had given me that before. The story of alcoholic Michael Henchard, who in the first chapter sells his family off to the highest bidder in a drunken rage, still has the power to shock. The aftermath of that action reverberates through the novel through plot twists to the very end.
4. 1984 by George Orwell (1949). This book was so much more painful to read than I expected, not just because of what happens to protagonist Winston Smith, who dares to have independent thought, but because of the controlling life that he and others around him are forced to adopt in this dystopic classic. What has struck me about the book ever since I read it, is how the potential of what happens in the novel could actually happen today: not from socialism, however, but from capitalist corruption. Concepts like “newspeak” and “doublethink” are practically oozing out of Washington, D.C. these days, and although I would never have considered Pres. Tyrant to be Big Brother, if this level of corruption and totalitarian power that he propagates continues unchecked, that tyrannical party will eventually make our lives unlivable.
3. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881). I never thought I would say this about a novel by James, but this is actually a page-turner, but as you would imagine. Isabel Archer is another one of those great literary heroines, but I found it a struggle early on to sympathize with her because of some of her choices in life which seem immature and foolish. The first half of the book you spend the entire time getting to know her and the people around her; the second half, you can’t put it down because of how those decisions impact everyone, and how Isabel has to come to terms with the ramifications of her own choices, good or bad. 
2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878), translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This is one of the greatest opening lines in literature and says much about how this lengthy, but incredibly well-written, novel will play out. The mistake most have about this book is thinking the title character’s story of her illicit affair with Count Vronsky is the main storyline. In fact, there is much more going on in this book. I was found myself identifying more with the story of Levin, who tries despierately to figure out his place in life, and almost sacrifices his greatest love in the process. This book deserves to be near the top of this list, and it's only because of how the next book was written that I suspect it isn't my number 1. It took me 4 months to read and it was worth it.
1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857), translated by Lydia Davis. It seems strange to me that at the top of my list are 2 infamous 19th-century novels about women having extramarital affairs. I think what drives me to rank them both so high are the stories of their passions for life and love, rather than their immorality. (I guess I am a Romantic at heart.) Earlier last year AA and I spent a few days in Rouen and Upper Normandy, France, which I think also helped me in deciding to finally turn to Flaubert for the first time and read his infamous story of Emma Bovary. This is another book where I thought I knew the storyline; I had even heard it was a boring read. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this book is one of the most beautifully lyrical I’ve ever read. The descriptions are so lush at times you feel like you’re with the characters smelling what they smell and feeling what they touch. Both Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary come to tragic ends, and the (male) authors of these novels could be accused of misogyny and taking a moral high ground in judgment of them. But it is exactly for those reasons that these books should still be read. One needs to appreciates these novels in the context of their day, but one also should discuss their messages in light of current social politics, most notably the #MeToo movement today.