Friday, July 22, 2011

catty editors, part 439

[William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World (1854)]

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20
Always refreshing to hear what a critic really thinks of an artist. Casting about earlier today for a copy of Rossetti's poem "Jenny," I dug out (from the bottom of a really obscure stack of library sale acquisitions) a copy of Cecil Y. Lang's 1968 Riverside anthology, The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Circle. Lang I didn't know – tho it's obvious I should. He prepared highly-regarded editions of the letters of Swinburne, Tennyson, and Arnold. He held a named chair at the University of Virginia. According to his obituary (2003) in the Independent, he was "sometimes spoken of as the highest-paid English professor in the land."

The Pre-Raphaelites and Their Circle is a more than solid collection of poems by the Rossettis, Morris, Meredith, and Swinburne, along with Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat (presumably included because of its "rescue" by Rossetti from the remainder stacks after having fallen into oblivion on its first publication). Lang also includes a gallery of early (mostly pencil) portraits of the poets and artists associated with the movement, and a section of (unfortunately) black & white reproductions of paintings. But thus far the best thing about the edition is Lang's delightfully cranky remark about the paintings he's chosen to represent:
And I am aware that as there are people who like folk dancing and "good" jazz there are people who like Holman Hunt. So I have done the best I could by him, but fastidiousness requires me to record that my own response is merely a discrimination among revulsions. The recent appearance on B.B.C. television of his "Light of the World," "in which the mouth of the picture spoke words advertising paraffin" (The Times, February 17, 1967, p. 2) perfectly expresses my own feeling.


Vance Maverick said...

Any idea whether that "recent appearance" was a real thing? (One suspects the hand of a Python or some other BBC satirist -- the "Frost Report" perhaps.) Or the quotation from the Times? Google finds those words in Lang's book and this post, and nowhere else.

As for the painting, it's not my style either, but I think it's instructive to consider its world tour and the response to it. That a certain highly-paid professor disapproved is amusing but not really here or there.

Mark Scroggins said...

I did a brief search & didn't find, either. And I'm not about the shlepp to the library & see in what context it turns up in the Times on microfilm.

I'm rather a fan of Holman Hunt, tho not of this particular canvas. I was amused by Lang's forthrightness about his own preferences, but on a second look they seem rather more cranky than amusing (what the hell does he mean by "'good' jazz"?). A: It's sometimes fun to look back at a day when editors felt free to say pretty insupportable things in their introductions. B: Times have changed, probably for the better.

Yes, neither here nor there. At some point I might put up an actually substantive post.

Vance Maverick said...

I took him to be implying that (all jazz being bad) the claims of fans to distinguish a good kind are pretentious nonsense.

Not that there's anything wrong with neither here nor there!