Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Guides to Good Writing

Here are a few links to guides to good writing which I can personally vouch for. They are aimed principally at anyone having to turn in a hefty piece of coursework / personal investigation / dissertation; but they contain much useful advice for all those of us who would like to express ourselves more clearly.

Student Guides
Ideal for English Literature students is this one, generously placed in the public domain,by Hazel Hutchison (Royal Holloway College, University of London), Guide to Good Writing

For a book-length guide for students, I recommend Peck and Coyle's Write it Right

Books on Style
The resources above are aimed at the student market. Other books deal with the wider question of clear style, which is applicable to various academic and professional fields.

Strunk and White's Elements of Style is a classic older book. Today it perhaps seems a little dogmatic in its precepts, and it does not go far into he mechanics of how to be clear. But it is constantly engaging, blessedly short and inspires us to get rid of some of the clutter in our prose. A few pounds very well spent. The original 1918 text by Strunk is accessible here.

The best thing I have found on writing clearly is Style by Joseph Williams. His wonderful guide actually provides a course of exercises to help you get better (Strunk and White  generally tell you get better). There are a rather confusing variety of editions of this book, which has gone through various publishers, but you won't go wrong with these two:

Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace contains the principles, with exercises

Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace gives you the essence

Williams is commending a certain style, which one may call 'classic', characterised by the virtues of concision, clarity and balance.  This is explored rather beautifully, with plenty of examples, in a book by Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose

My Stuff
That's more than enough to choose from. But just to round things off, last and least, here's a little handout of my own, largely drawn from Williams, with some practical experience thrown in:

And below is a brief summary of my own commandments. Looking at it again it seems rather hectoring, telling not showing, but maybe it's of some service as a memo. Good luck to all those coursework scribes out there.

Writing Clearly: Some Guidelines

1.  Read. If you want to write well, you have to read well.

2.  Find a model.

 If there is an author you find clear and compelling, try imitating his / her style.

3. Be honest. Don’t pretend to have something to say when you don’t. Don’t try to make your point sound bigger than it really is.  Show off by being precise, not by being fancy.

Shakespeare uses alliteration which adds to the effect and helps the poem flow.

A completely empty sentence.

4. Choose the right subject. Sentences should start with a precise, simple subject.

One of the aspects of Wordsworth’s poetry which we see at once in these lines is his love of nature.  Subject is long and vague

Wordsworth’s love of nature is immediately apparent in these lines. Subject is more accurate.

An erotic atmosphere is built up by the poet by means of imagery of sensual pleasure.

Uncertainty over subject has led to awkward construction

Images of sensual pleasure create an erotic atmosphere.

Clear subject leads to a cleaner sentence.

5. Find a verb which expresses the idea. Don’t rely on is all the time. Write a list of verbs and put it where you can see it:

Some things that writing can do: explore, illustrate, describe, suggest, echo, allude ….

And things that people (the subject of writing) do: rejoice, mourn, ask, regret, deny …

6. End strongly. The important point should come at the end of the sentence.

In Wordsworth’s philosophy, our emotional responses to Nature form our moral character.

Our attitude towards the Duke varies over the course of the play.

Over the course of the play, our attitude towards  the Duke varies.

Don’t tail off:

Our attitude to the Duke varies over the course of the play, and this keeps us interested and involved.

7. Open paragraphs with a topic sentence.

Although he is the villain of the play, Edmund has some admirable traits.

Openings of paragraphs can also work as a chain:

These early preoccupations return in the later poetry.

Macbeth is not the only character to display his conscience.

8. Use the main body of the paragraph to develop the theme. For example, support it with quotations, add a detail.

9. End paragraphs strongly.  Keep a special ‘hit’ for the end of an essay.

10. ‘Tell the story’ from a consistent point of view.

The girl in ‘We Are Seven’ does not understand death. The speaker keeps asking her why she counts the children in the family as seven, but she does not understand what he means. The reader notices the man’s incomprehension as much as the girl’s. Wordsworth emphasises her simplicity by using simple language and verse forms. Innocence and the natural wisdom of children are important ideas in the Lyrical Ballads. The romantic movement was particularly influenced by the ideas of Rousseau concerning children, and several later poems also deal with the subject.
We Are Seven presents two kinds of incomprehension: there is the girl, who does not understand death, and the speaker, who does not understand the girl. This subject is matched by the poetic treatment: the poem’s simple language and unsophisticated verse forms suit the ideas of innocence and the natural wisdom of children. In this choice and handling of material, the poem is an important example of the romantic movement’s preoccupation with childhood. It points back to the influential theories of Rousseau, and forward to much later work on the subject.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Austen, Persuasion: The Economic Background

Below are some notes drawn on a lecture by Sandie Byrne, ‘Pride and Prejudice in Persuasion’, given at an A Level Conference in London in 2005. I thought the lecture gave some useful suggestions on things to look out for in the novel, and follow up in further reading.

Text and Context

We should not try to read off early 19th century history from novels: they are fiction, not accurate history books.

But we should know about context – what was going on in the period. Texts cannot help being products of their times.


When Jane Austen was young, George III was on the throne. He was an obstinate moralist, and court protocol was rigidly observed: courtiers stood in his presence.

His heir the Prince ran a more relaxed household. Heirs provide a focus for dissent. Prince George, the Regent, initially allied himself with the Whigs. He was satirised as an ageing roué. We know from a letter that Austen hated the Prince Regent.

Class Structure

The upper rank of English society was the aristocracy, marked by land ownership. The ‘ton’ was the upper 10,000. To be in the ton you needed land, name and money. The higher rank was being infiltrated by arrivistes, who had land but not an ancient name.

A keyword is estate – this means both your land and property, and also your marital state.

The Estate of a man was evaluated by these questions: does he have an old name? Land (providing income from rents)? Money?

The Estate of a woman depends on her reputation. A woman’s market value depends on her marriageability.

Industrial Revolution

This brought important social changes. Rich capitalist industrialists, like mill owners and factory bosses, wanted to join higher social ranks. To bury your origins in trade, you need servants. Women servants are cheapest, so male servants are even more of a badge of gentility. Don’t be seen doing manual labour. Get some land. New lords acquired land to support their title.

The navy was a good place for a second son to rise. Unlike the army, you didn’t have to purchase your commission. You could be a midshipman at 13+. Captains could reasonably hope to become admirals. Any time you captured an enemy ship, you could make a lot of prize money [note Sir Walter's laboured joke on the word 'prize'].

An officer in a ship of the line could make a fortune. Sir Walter deplores this, since it allows the undeserving to rise to higher rank and prominence. Admiral Croft rebukes Wentworth for complaining about his first ship: Wentworth did not have much ‘interest’, i.e. family interests, patronage – he was lucky to get what he did.

So both the Industrial Revolution and the Armed forces provided some social mobility. There was old money and new money.

Jane Austen was not in the ‘ton’. She was in the gentry (knights baronet, clergy) – people who might have some land, but were not in the oldest, ‘best’ families. Two of her brothers were naval officers.

Characters in the Novel

New Money                             Old Names                  New Poverty

Crofts                                      Sir Walter E                The Elliotts (sliding downwards)

Wentworth                              Mr E

                                                Lady Russell

                                                Mrs Dalrymple

Lady Russell may be the best of the old names – she is good and well-meaning.

By contrast, Lady Dalrymple does not fulfil the responsibilities of her position.

The Musgroves are respectable – they are of the gentry class, but with no aspirations to higher gentry. They are approved by the narrative voice, but not quite high enough for an Austen heroine.

The Musgroves and Lady Russell are static: thy represent the way things used to be.

Mr Shepherd is also (probably) static.

Mrs Clay chooses another form of social mobility.

The novel’s values

Tradition rather than revolution

Austen is not demanding social revolution: rather, the novel supports traditional values such as responsibility and duty.

Real rather than fake

Anne stands for what is real and solid.

London was associated with sham and show.

Pretence, deceit and duplicity are strongly criticised in the novel.

Country and town represent old and new: in Kellynch Anne can walk about unchaperoned. This is much harder in Bath.

Sir Walter prides himself on his appearance – this shows he has done no work in his life. This is perhaps the most ‘revolutionary’ element of the novel, since it portrays aristocrats as languid and effete.

Sexual values

On the whole, during the Regency sexual conduct was loose, though it was more restrained in the middle ranks of society. Women preserved their good name; men went to prostitutes, servants (rarely, perhaps), or married women.

Work and Money

There is less fear of social mobility in Persuasion than there is in other Austen novels such as Mansfield Park. In Persuasion, mobility is a result of one’s own endeavours, the Protestant work ethic.  The novel does not echo contemporary criticism of money from trade, for example from India, where undesirable people are making fortunes.

Austen approves of money-making. Persuasion is moving towards the Victorian utilitarian idea of climbing the ladder. But it is allied to a solid morality, without pretension and deceit. Wentworth’s new money is acceptable, since it is a result of his willpower and the service of his country.

Theme of Persuasion

Persuasion means being rhetorically convinced, but also belief, judgment, as in ‘I am persuaded that ...’. In this latter sense, Mary, for example, is persuaded that she is ill and hard done by.

Instances of the other kind of persuasion: Wentworth doesn’t persuade Anne; Lady Russell persuades Anne; Mrs Smith persuades Anne; other people try to persuade Anne to persuade Mary to be more sensible.

So the novel is both about what your persuasions are, and how you go about persuading other people.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

David Hockney, A Bigger Picture

In the first room of A Bigger Picture, the Hockney show now on at the RA are two of the artist's student works, street views in the style of the Euston Road School: muted, muddy colours in thick paint, a heavy louring atmosphere filling the canvas. Everything that follows represents a flight from this beginning: the drab enclosed world of the industrial town is exchanged for the vast spaces of California, with its warm colours and clear vistas; cloudy skies give way to endless blue space; paint becomes lighter and flatter, and the works themselves become vast in scale. Canvases are joined together, as the scene relentlessly escapes confinement. The 1980s landscapes from America are full of the passions that Hockney is pursuing to the present day. The huge size of works like Grand Canyon, Looking North, September 1982 recalls the mountainscapes of the American sublime; but there is a poppy, Californian cool in there too, a delight that comes from a flight from introspection. They do not seem to be referring to heroic transports in the soul of the artist; instead they offer worlds to get lost in, absorbed by.

I remember watching a programme on Cubism many years ago, in which Hockney remarked on how the Cubist experiment had freed Western art from the tyranny of single-point perspective, introduced in fourteenth-century Florence. Throughout this show we see him exploring the possibilities of looking at the same scene from different points of view. From Nichols Canyon (1980) through to the various depictions of 'The Tunnel' in paintings of Woldgate woods, the landscapes do not conform to one viewpoint: different views coalesce in one image, taking away the privileged observing position of single-point perspective and making us part of the scene, not external to it. There are no figures in the paintings because we are ourselves the figures, moving around withing their shifting space. Then there are shifts in temporal perspective too. Some scenes, like the views of Yorkshire made when the artist was driving daily to visit a dying friend, are not the record of a single moment in time, but an accumulated impression built up from various journeys. The same scene or motif - there is a tremendous sequence of images of a tree stump - is painted across the seasons, drawn from life and then recreated in the memory, where colours can take on the intense luminosity of Winter Trees (2009, reproduced above). All the time the artist and viewer is moving, looking again, reassembling the scene. as well as the multiple perspecdtives in space and time, there is the further variety of spectacle offered by different media: drawing, photography, watercolour, oil, film, the ipad. There is a tension running through the show: a painting fixes something in colour, yet Hockney is fascinated by the way in which Nature cannot be formulated and is constantly changing. It is a story of process over product, of art constantly trying to keep up with its subject.

A Bigger Picture is a huge show, and perhaps is like a film that's half an hour too long. After the Los Angeles room and the first set of Yorkshire paintings, I found the wall of watercolours less engaging, more like exercises than performances.  The reworking of Claude's Sermon on the Mount was an interesting view of the artist's preoccupations with space, but seemed rather dry compared to the gorgeous depictions of woods and hawthorn blossom. I thought the drawings might have been given some more space: the charcoal sketches of the tree stump were a wonderful exhibition of draughtsmanship and it would have been good to see more. There is a selection of sketchbooks, but these are tucked into the smallest room and harder to get a good view of. Hockney's drawings are different from the paintings, exquisite moments of observation which hold their own against the huge visionary creations. But perhaps it is good to have everything, as an indication of the artist's zest and ceaseless curiosity. Overall the show gives off a tremendous sense of energy and enthusiasm: it is inspiring to think of Hockney, at a senior stage of life, getting up first thing to catch the blossom, excited by new media, passionate about the endless particularity of the natural world. There are no clever ideas to pick up. It's all about looking. As he says of spring blossom, 'it is a pleasure to witness, just an intense visual pleasure'.

Travelling Light

There is a resurgence of interest in silent films at the moment: The Artist has been hoovering up Oscar nominations and critical praise, and contemporary bands like Air and In the Nursery are finding inspiration for new music in old movies (please see below). Nicholas Wright's new play Travelling Light, now playing at the National Theatre, is another homage to the early days of the twentieth century's most popular art form. It is mainly set in a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe 'around the dawn of the 20th century', and follows the fortunes of  Motl Mendl, a young drifter who has inherited his father's photographic equipment. Returning from the big city after seven fruitless years, he reluctantly revives the family business, but just as he wishes to leave the village again he is persuaded to stay and make movies, with the financial backing of a prosperous timber merchant. Anecdotal footage of village life soon loses its novelty value, and so they decide to film stories instead. Events are framed from 1936, where Motl, now Maurice Montgomery (it was common for Jewish emigrés to change their names to get on in America) looking back on his early years.

Travelling Light is clearly inspired by a fascination with early film and the life of the shtetl. And here it is at its strongest: the production of these early films comes over beautifully, and there is some lovely recreation (in surprisingly high definition, though?) projected above the actors. I'll take on trust that the depiction of the community life is accurate, though I was surprised not to hear of more religious objection to the enterprise - Kevin Brownlow's informative programme essay specifically mentions the biblical prohibition of graven images - and some of the accents and types (hard-dealing Jewish accountant etc.) seemed close to stereotypes. Nevertheless, it was all depicted with immense fondness, and with some delightful details (I loved the myth about the express train only stopping by special treaty with the staionmaster - in fact it always stops). Antony Sher is given a great platform for larger-than-life character acting with the part of Bindel, the timber merchant.

The play is inspired by history, and the history of a medium, but it does not seem to be much inspired by human character. It is in the treatment of relationships and the protagonist's story that it is at its weakest. Mendl is a type more interested in his art than in people, but this rather cold detachment makes it hard for us to become attached to him. There is no reason for protagonists to be especially likeable (think of the prig Stephen Dedalus) but they do need some depth for us to explore, and I couldn;t find much here. The romance interest was unengaging, and the part of Anna seemed to me underwritten, leaving Lauren O'Neil with too little material. At one point she makes a rather extraordinary comment about her attitude to sex, but this is not really explained or followed up. The plot rumbles through the familiar stops of Momentous Decision and Great Revelation, but I couldn't feel much affected by these. The young actor Nate Dershowitz in the second half has practically nothing to do apart from provide information, which gives us no real reson to care about him. Final references to a fire, and a present-meets-past closing vignette brought back memories of Arcadia, and only reminded me of how immensely moving I found the ending of that great work.

But I enjoyed Travelling Light greatly for what it had to offer. I should add that Grant Olding's music added greatly to the atmosphere. Listening to a radio programme on the history of early cinema on the way back, I could see how the play had cleverly traced the early years of the medium. The very first films were apparently shown in private houses. In 1895, the Lumiere brothers gave the first paying public screening, making that an iconic date. Films did not excite huge interest when they first appeared: audiences still preferred music hall and vaudeville, from which silent movies drew much of their language, and were presented as parts of variety shows. It was under directors like the 'magus' Mélies and D W Griffith that the creative potential of the medium was first explored.  Oddly, film is in some ways returning to its pre-cinema origins - watched privately or in small groups at home, with director's commentary on offer. Which is very pleasant. But one of the most amazing film expereiences I've ever had was seeing Abel Gance's Napoleon at the Festival Hall with a full symphony orchestra playing Carl Davis's score. If I ever got close to what those first audiences felt as the cinematoscope whirred away, it was then.

The Artist

The Artist
Films are dreams. It is one of the oldest comparisons: we sit, semi-recumbent and warm in the dark, while our fears and fantasies are projected before us, converted into stories that take us from our waking consciousness. The analogy seems especially apt for the silent film: here we step through the silver screen into a vanished world, a repository of our ideas of a golden, innocent age, where motion is elegant and the roughness of sound has been transformed into the patterns of music. This is the dreamworld that the new year's new hit, Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist gives us. It is a rhapsody to silent movies, and also to our idea of the early days of cinema. I found it a joyous, transcendent experience.

To recap the plot very briefly (spoiler alert: don't read this paragraph if you haven't seen it): George Valentin (Jean Jujardin) is a silent movie star, talented and vain and addicted to public adulation. He meets a young actress, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and there is an immediate chemistry between them. The talkies arrive. Valentin is dropped by his studio, and funds his own silent film, Tears of Love, which is a flop. Meanwhile Peppy becomes a huge star, and as she ascends in tinsel town Valentin descends into obscurity, poverty - the talkies coincide with the Great Crash of 1929 - and despair. No need to spoil things further by spelling out the resolution.

From this simple story the actors extract a rich cocktail of human feelings and foibles, from arrogance and ambition to remorse, fear, decency, and love. John Goodman is great as the hard-headed but soft-hearted studio director, and the dog is sensational. The film pays homage to the classics by alluding to them: Singin' in the Rain, Douglas Fairbanks, Citizen Kane, Expressionism (the first sequence) and no doubt many others I missed. But these were side-effects. The total effect is that everything is lovingly thought through, and there is a magical blend of meticulous prepration and flair. The film as a whole aims straight for the heart, and wins us over with its sweet assurances of the persistence of gentleness and the possibility of redemption.

What were they really like, though, those early days? Well, according to an expert I heard recently, silent films were anything but silent. There were musicians, the audience were probably not sitting in contemporary waiting room silence, and there would have been a commentator at the side, narrating the action, singing and drawing the audience in. There are records of perfomrances with actors behind the screen providing voiceovers. I was interested in the posh, evening dress audience at the start of The Artist, as I had the impression that silent film was from very early days pitched as mass entertainment. But perhaps there were gala openings for the big stars, like today. It doesn't really matter, as here the point was to show the height of success and pride from which the protagonist can only fall.

Frederica Maas
One thing the silent movie era certainly was not was innocent. Coincidentally, the same day I saw The Artist there was an obituary of perhaps the last witness to that era, former screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas, who has died at the splendid age of 111. Maas's Hollywood was a place of cruelty, humiliation, lying, sexism, chicanery and theft. The depraved behind-the-scenes frolics included orgies where "disgusting men" dallied with "desperate women". Those vivid phrases are taken from Maas's 1999 memoir, Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood, said to be an essential record of the period.  The dreamworld of the silver screen was paid for by a great deal of misery and degradation.

Film and Music
Nonetheless, the work survives, and continues to give joy. Also in the paper yesterday was an interesting piece in the Telegraph by Thomas H Green on modern musicians providing soundtracks for silent film (can't find an online version of this piece). Below are some of those he mentions, to which I've added one of my favourite recent albums, British Sea Power's Man of Aran.

Contemporary soundtracks
Modern musical soundtracks to old films include:
Air, Le Voyage dans la Lune; Pet Shop Boys, Battleship Potemkin
British Sea Power, Man of Aran
In the Nursery, seven soundtracks including The Passion of Joan of Arc and Hindle Wakes
Jeff Mills, Metropolis
Simon Fisher Turner, The Great White Silence

Black Swan

I caught up with Black Swan last week, knowing vaguely that it was a big hit in 2010/11 and that it was to do with a dancer having to discover her dark side in order to play the black swan as well as the white swan in Swan Lake. And that indeed is what it's about. Ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is cast as Odette, replacing a principal who has retired and is now a drinking, despairful wreck. As a dancer, Nina is technically superb, but lacking in the dangerous passion needed to portray the Black Swan convincingly. The film follows her plunging the depths of her psyche, as she responds to the role itself, a friend who may be a rival, her predecessor, a domineering mother a lustful and exacting director. Having found her darker self she has to confront it. Understandably, she falls to pieces, in a terrifying series of hallucinations and mysterious injuries. But she gives a triumphant performance. Life is sacrificed to art.

Lots of familiar topoi, then: dangerous obsession (like Pi, the only other Aronofsky film I've seen), dance as a means for a good girl to find her wild side (pick any teen dance movie, Dirty Dancing, Step-Up etc.), a Jekyll & Hyde theme, a gothic collage of madness and suspicion (Shutter Island). It's all good material and there's nothing wrong with using it again. But Black Swan didn't seem to me to make something interestingly new with its parts. The mise-en-scene was a bit obvious. Visually, there was the black / white symbolic design, the predictable use of mirrors to suggest multiple identity, the crude imagery of mutilation. Too many characters were types: the obsessive mother, a former dancer who never made it, succeeding vicariously through her daughter; a director who is sexual predator but also a genius driving his artistes to dangerous extremes; a friend who may be enemy. The script had too many clichés about getting in touch with your dark side, letting go etc.

But my real problem with Black Swan was that it was unequal to the themes it was exploring. The White Swan self is here equivalent to being rigid, sexually repressed and enslaved to authority - a hopelessly inadequate version of the Goodness and Beauty she represents in Swan Lake. Similarly, the Black Swan  consists in clubbing, popping pills and lesbian sex. Next to the ballet itself this seems a blinkered, narrow and smug modern metro view of the psyche. And since Nina is a train crash at the start of the film (how did she make it this far in the company?), there is nothing for the narrative to do but show us the bits fall off. It's misery porn, equivalent to watching a cancer take over this system, with dramatic scenery and a few pat statements to justify it as a serious look at the demands of art. And more basically, the problem of making a film about Swan Lake is that it's always going to fall short of the original. Tchaikovsky goes much further into the heights and depths of emotion than this. Black Swan is, I think, well-intentioned, brilliantly acted and has some fine set pieces. But I'm not sure it takes us anywhere. Still, I would note that the day after I saw it, I read about Segei Polunin, young superstar, suddenly leaving the Royal Ballet. Pressure amounting to madness? Apparently he is bored, needs time to think, doesn't like London. Hard to see a film in that.

Eighteenth-Century Taste

In Jane Austen's Persuasion (1818) we are told that the heroine, Anne Elliott, is "an extremely pretty girl, with gentleness, modesty, taste and feeling". It is one of those lists of epithets in Austen that seems at first comfortingly familiar, and then elusive. What does it mean in this world to have 'feeling'? What kinds of behaviour make up 'gentleness'? And what would the first readers have understood by 'taste'? Any one of these words can start us on an archaeological dig into the various concepts at work int he novel: we need to investigate them, because it is against these values that we make sense of the action. On the subject of taste, I found a programme in the In Our time archive very helpful, and I offer some notes on it here. But better still, listen to the programme directly: there's a link at the end of this post. 

In the early eighteenth century Britain was commercially successful, surpassing its nearest rival Holland. There was new wealth pouring in, and much of it was spent by the newly wealthy on luxuries. Over the centuries, these consumables ranged in style from classical and gothic to Venetian, Indian and, of course, chinoiserie. All this money and luxury led to some concerns, not only the perennial anxiety over arrivistes enjoying a status previously reserved for those of noble blood (returning to Persuasion, we might think of Sir Walter's dislike of naval officers for just this reason a century later). It was also feared in some quarters that the enjoyment of luxuries would lead to a moral decline: Britain was the greatest empire since Rome, and a parliamentary democracy, superior to the effete court of absolutist France. Would this identity be threatened by cultural borrowings? Would the manly Brits go soft, stroking their new lace fabrics instead of staffing the empire?

With so much new stuff (literally and figuratively) coming in, and merchants climbing up the class ladder, some principle of discrimination seemed desirable. How do you know what is really good, how do you separate quality from tat? The ability to do this is taste, French 'le gout', "a capacity for discriminating beauty". There was more openness for debate about such matters in Britain: in France the court basically set the rules, while in Britain since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 the court was much weaker and there was room for other authorities to emerge.

Writers were one such source of authority. As they became interested in the question of taste, they gave the notion an intellectual basis. One of the most important intellectuals was the gentleman philosopher, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713; in the first half of the 18th century the nobility had an important role as the arbiters of taste). He brought aesthetics (the study of beauty) to the centre of philosophy. Shaftesbury made a link between beauty and religion: he believed that we commune with God by looking at beauty, which is characterised by order, harmony, and proportion. These ordering design elements are in turn analogous to the internal ordering needed for the virtuous life. Hence discriminating perception works together with ethical judgement. Virtue is our sense of moral order and perfection, analogous to our intuitive approval of the rightness of a building's facade. The enjoyment of beauty, the moral life, and the understanding of the divine are all linked.

From this analogy drawn between moral and aesthetic judgement, it followed that it was desirable to develop one's powers of perception and discrimination, to become cultivated. For Addison (1692-1719), in his essays in The Spectator, this quality was fundamental to a civilised person. Acquiring a sense of the elegant, polite and refined arts was higher than the mere pursuit of pleasure: it was the distinguishing mark of the modern, polished citizen.

In any period, ideas develop in opposition to other ideas. This was the case with taste in the eighteenth century, which was conceived partly in opposition to religious enthusiasm, as practised by non-conformists such as the Methodists. On the one hand there is balance, order, design, perspective, reason, stability; on the other there is the baroque, the unlicensed, wild, effusive. For the proponents of taste, the first set is identified with Englishness, making the second alien and a little suspicious. Taste thus provides a vocabulary for both the inner and outer life: it indicates an ordered religiosity within, and governs the way you comport yourself in society. And it identifies you as a loyal Englishman.

Unlike the political arts, which could only be practised in public, by men, the art of acquiring taste could be pursued and expressed in the home, the territory of women. It was possible for women to demonstrate taste through their choice of decoration, their manners, how they walked. The objects and rituals of the home - teatime served in Wedgewood China, Chippendale furniture - all betokened taste. It was not the privileged domain of the aristocracy, or even the gentry: in Richardson's novel Pamela (1741), the eponymous heroine shows a higher standard of discrimination than those of higher social standing. You can advertise your taste simply by behaving in accordance with certain rules, and rules are not expensive. Culture was more available: this was the age of the first public libraries, household pianos, printed sheet music, the novel, public pleasure gardens. Nature itself was perceived through eyes educated by taste in paintings: so under William Gilpin's instruction, travellers learned to search for 'picturesque' landscapes, nature which looked like a picture; while landholders could have their parks remodelled by 'Capability' Brown (so-called because he assessed lands for their 'capability', that is potential for landscape treatment) to suit the idea of what the countryside would look like if it was tastefully designed.

Cultivation was no longer the hobby of the wealthy elite. Fanny Burney's Evelina (1778) depicts a London where cultural pleasures are readily available. Indeed, vulgar aristocrats were mocked: Pope's Epistle to Burlington satirises a vulgar country estate (and in so doing implicitly praises Burlington's refined neoclassical sensibilities, as exemplified by his Palladian house at Chiswick). The nouveaux riches and their fancy houses at Twickenham and Clapham all came in for a bit of bashing too. (We could add that Gilpin was himself satirised in Thomas Rowlandson's Doctor Syntax drawings.) Beneath it all was an unresolved question: could culture simply be acquired by anyone with sufficient income? Or did you have to be born into it?  Which middle class groups have got it right? Who are the tasteful and who are the vulgarians? The new form of the novel was itself hard to pin down: Richardson teaches the proprieties, yet as a mere tradesman - he was a printer of humble background - he was regarded as an impertinent upstart by aristocrats like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762). In the early nineteenth century, judgements of taste course through the novels of Jane Austen.

The British Empire was a source of this diversity and confusion. The British colonies allowed for self-creation, unstifled by hierarchy. At home, a more mobile society allowed for self-invention too. The basic story of the eighteenth century novel is someone become a lady or gentleman, displaying the taste and attitudes necessary for that status. the But there was always a need for an authorised code of what was tasteful and decorous. And once that code is known it can be deployed to exclude others. In the nineteenth century, the obsession with taste fades.

An interesting discussion, though as one contributor mentions, it somewhat collapses chronology in teasing out the big themes. It  leaves us with the question of where we are today, taste-wise. Can 'good taste' be taught? Is 'tasteful' - as Amanda Vickery says right at the end - today's ultimate put-down? The word itself, like all evaluative terms in England, is inevitably involved with class and money, and is often avoided for that reason. But it seems to me that, whatever term we employ, taste is still operative, though in discrete areas, not as a universal code. The communities around rap music, opera, handbags and National Trust houses will all have their ideas of what's proper, what's cool or naff, and individuals will absorb this code more or less consciously. We still define ourselves by what we like: do you find Downton Abbey a Sunday evening pleasure, or ghastly soft heritage, for example? Do you pronounce your refinement through not going to Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films, or is that the attitude of a self-important snob? We'd like to think we at least have our own answers to such questions, but I suspect we look around us for the 'right answer' just as much as our eighteenth-century forbears did. Our identity is to a large extent constructed by society, or the bit of it we find ourselves in, and many of our opinions are consequently the received opinions of that group. Perhaps it is a romantic fallacy to think things could be otherwise.

The reading list on the In Our Time page makes me feel very ignorant, but one book I have read, and would recommend is John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination. Not in the reading list is Shaftesbury's Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711).

Monday, 23 January 2012

Drawing of Trees (after John Walter James)

Started the day, and the week, with this undistinguished sketch of a corner of a watercolour called 'Coldharbour Farm':

It was good to stand in front of it and get something down quickly. I enjoyed getting lost in the tangle of trees and branches, and became fascinated by the different degrees of wash used to suggest bulk, depth, volume. Haven't managed to get these in pencil. The artist was John Walter James, who I learn was the 3rd Baron Northbourne (1869-1932). I couldn't find anything more about him. He's not in the ODNB and the Peerage dot com page has the barest facts. I'm glad he left this behind. Did he do lots of paintings, I wonder?

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Amos Oz

Amos Oz is a distinguished Israeli writer, whose work includes novels, poetry, political commentary and memoir. The Story Begins is his masterclass in close reading of fiction. There are ten short chapters, each dealing with the style of a story or novel, and the way that the beginning takes us into the work.  Authors examined include Fontane, Gogol, Chekhov, Kafka, Márquez and Carver. There are also critiques of Hebrew writers who some of us may not be so familiar with: Shmuel Agnon, S Yizhar, Yaakov Shabtai. But for the purposes of enjoying The Story Begins it isn't necessary to have read any of the works Oz considers, since his main concern is with how the fictions get going (and plot developments are summarised when necessary).

Oz is interested with the 'contract' any fiction implies at the outset between reader and writer. The brilliant first essay takes the opening of Fontane's Effi Briest, which seems to a modern reader a standard bit of descriptive scene-setting, the kind we have little patience with these days. Then he shows how every detail in the scene contributes through symbol and atmosphere to the development of the story. He shows us how to read Gogol by picking up the mad bureaucratic style, and explains how Márquez (in The Autumn of the Patriarch) dissolves the sense of time on which novels usually depend. A Carver story requires us to look for the emotional life of the characters beneath the surface, in the interstices of the writing. Oz picks up words, phrases and sentence shapes and relates them to the larger life of the story or novel under scrutiny. Each writer requires us to 'tune in', to pick up a series of codes and understandings that makes the reading experience work.

In a postscript, Oz expresses his frustration at dry academic criticism, which takes the pith out of literary texts. He emphasises the fundamental importance of getting lost in a book and picking up the particular pleasures it gives us. (Words like 'examined' and 'scrutiny' above suggest this dessicated world of joyless analysis, and don't do justice to his irresistibly enthusiastic approach: the chapters are based on lectures at high school and university and we hear the ebullient teacher's voice here.) Reading for pleasure doesn't mean being unthinking or unobservant, or falling into belle-lettristic complacency; but it does mean reading slowly and finding our way around in the new and strange world any good fiction writer takes us to. The Story Begins is top notch lit crit, and a writer's introduction tothe art of slow reading. Five stars.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Journeys through The Waste Land

The Waste Land (please note: it's two words) starts with the disinterment of the dead, and perhaps the first thing we need to do when we meet it - or meet it again - is disinter it from the layers of commentary, opinion, and received wisdom that have settled over it. Not that these things are useless: we just need to travel over this strange place for ourselves a few times before looking for a companion.
We also need to find some way of navigating it that doesn't make us feel too lost. (One way of doing that is to enjoy feeling lost, of course). Another was suggested to me recently by reading the French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet's introduction to his screenplay for the equally perplexing film directed by Alain Resnais, Last Year in Marienbad (1961). Robbe-Grillet says that the film was "an attempt to construct a purely mental space and time—those of dreams, perhaps, or of memory, those of any effective life—without excessive insistence on the traditional relations of cause and effect, nor on an absolute time sequence in narrative." That seems to me a pretty good description of The Waste Land, and Robbe-Grillet's advice to the viewer can help us here too. The viewer can, he says, "react in two ways: he can try to construct some Cartesian scheme, as lineal and rational as possible, in which case the film will seem difficult, if not incomprehensible; or instead, by contrast, he can allow himself to be transported by the extraordinary images projected before his eyes, by the voices of the actors, by the sounds, by the music, by the rhythm of the montage". I suggest that we should, at least in the first instance, read The Waste Land like this, as a series of images and speeches that follow each other as in a dream, following some subterranean or emotional current perhaps, but not spelling out a logical sequence. It is an extremely dramatic poem, and it is always a good idea to listen to it. Here is a reading by Eliot, Ted Hughes and Lia Williams, put together for Poetry, Please. Close your eyes, and let the music play on your imagination.

Online study
Still, we cannot shut out entirely the rational bit of our mind (left hemisphere?) which wants to make some sense from this collage of voices. There are mountains of criticism and scholarship - indeed, one wonders how many poems of 434 lines or so can have generated this much secondary material. First we might want to know what the poet himself thought. Eliot referred to The Waste Land at various points in his life, and in a rather contradictory way. There are some interesting comments in the Paris Review Interview, 1959.

Clear and helpful lecture by Nick Mount

Allusions and references are recorded in Southam's book A Student's Guide to the Selected Poems of T S Eliot, and can be studied on screen in this hypertext edition.

Another hypertext is offered on the Exploring the Waste Land site.

Keeping up with technology, there is an ipad Waste Land app. I have yet to use it (not having an ipad), but it had been well reviewed and the contents are certainly impressive.

An offbeat and stimulating approach is provided by graphic artist Martin Rowson, who has hardboiled detective Chris Marlowe tracking down the allusions on the mean streets of crime noir. Out of print, about to be reissued.

Study guides
  • York Notes produce a serviceable set of notes to the poem by Alisdair Macrae, and brief chapters on context and critical reception. The reading list with suggestions is useful. Use as a starting point, not an ending point! The point being that, it's one thing to know Eliot listened to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring - as a book like this will usefully tell us - but it's another, altogether more exciting thing, to listen to The Rite of Spring ourselves and look for connections with the poem. (Apologies for stating the obvious.)
  • Stephen Coote, The Waste Land for Penguin (Critical Studies and Masterstudies are the same thing) is an outstanding one-volume guide to the poem, from one of the best student monograph series, now sadly out of print. If you just get one book, this is the one to track down.
  • Helen Williams's study for the excellent  Arnold Studies in English Literature (no.37) is quite a demanding investigation into structure and meaning in the poem. Serious and rewarding.
  • Matt Simpson's Focus on The Waste Land is a more personal approach, and reads the poem as a very personal reaction to Eliot's own experiences. Deeply engaged, inevitably speculative, and interesting to reflect on in the light of Eliot's own theory of artistic impersonality.
That is plenty to be going on with, and certainly enough for any sixth form exam on the Selected Poems.  But if you're still hungry you could try:
By which stage, we might feel we have buried the poem in explication and it is time to start the whole process again.


Happened on this by chance (late night TV surfing), watched a big chunk in a somnolent state and then saw it again on LoveFilm (free with package. Thanks). Sus was originally a stage play, by Barrie Keefe, whose other works include the British gangster masterpiece The Long Good Friday. Two cops (brilliantly okayed by Ralph Brown and Rafe Spall) are interrogating a young black man (Clint Dyer) on the night of Mrs Thatcher's 1979 election victory. They are slavering with anticipation of good times ahead, proper support for the police, welfare scroungers clobbered and immigrants sent packing etc.

The suspect, Delroy, thinks he's there on 'Sus', the insidious law that allowed police to arrest people if they 'looked' suspicious. In fact his wife has died, and, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, they want him to confess to murder before morning. As is generally the case with stage plays on screen, you notice an unusual amount of talking, and the single room set. But what dramatic writing! The atmosphere of menace builds steadily, through modulations of rhythm and tone that stop it becoming monotonous. There's a horrible fascination in seeing what kind of mental torture the cops are going to come up with next. One of the most shocking moments is when Karn describes his happy marriage in affectionate detail to Delroy, who has just been told his wife has died in pain. Something quite Pinteresque about holding up a domestic detail - learning languages by linguaphone -  in an unusual light and making it a weapon.

It's more explicitly located in a specific historical moment than Pinter's dramas usually are, though. This is a condition of England play looking at the rise of the far right, the failure to integrate the immigrant population and the abuse of police power. We can see the Brixton riots just round the corner. It may depict things in quite a straightforward way, morally speaking, but it's not the job of dramatists to be social historians. In any case, tough cops of the era have been rather glamourised, in The Sweeney and latterly Life on Mars, and it was salutary to see something grittier. I sat there thinking, was it really like this in the 70s? Interrogations unrecorded, no duty solicitor? Presumably it was. Sus was written in 2010, perhaps as a way of suggesting connections between then and now. It certainly feels very topical, as debates on racism and immigration continue, and human rights abuses are committed in the name of the War on Terror.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

James Wood, How Fiction Works

James Wood is one of the liveliest critics around. His essays always give a sense that the whole business of reading closely really matters, as part of our experience of life, not simply as an academic exercise. Most of his writing takes the form of essays (several are collected in The Irresponsible Self and The Broken Estate).  How Fiction Works is a book-length study of the techniques we find in writers from Fielding to David Foster Wallace. It really is about how good novels and stories work, what makes them go, what makes them work their magic on us. We strat with a lesson on narrative, and in particular the uses of the free indirect style, where we often float between the minds of the narrator and the characters (Consider: 'Sir Richard listened patiently to the scruffy clerk's explanation' - here we are looking at Sir Richard from the outside, shown the action by the third-person narrator, yet at the same time we are also inside Sir Richard's mind, as he congratulates himself on his patience and finds the clerk scruffy' - it's a simple trick, yet marvellous effects come from it). There are chapters on other aspects of the fiction-writer's trade such as characterization, imagery, dialogue. It is all refreshingly undidactic and reads like an enthusiastic reader sharing his findings. Woods is averse to dogmas like show-don't-tell and 'characters should be rounded' and well equipped to point out how great writers regularly break these notional  'rules'. In conclusion he considers the claim that the realist novel is outmoded in the modern age, and feels this is mistaken, or pedantically over-insistent. In any case, he argues, serious writing is not about the construction of reality but about the search for truth. How Fiction Works is constructed in short, fragmentary sections - each one an observation, usually based on a particular passage. (And the passages are nicely complete in themselves: there is no need to have read all the novels he cites to follow the discussion.) How Fiction Works has a personal style and taste, which makes it very readable. It is unblemished by jargon, opinionated, lively, not stifled by reverence and altogether highly recommended to anyone studying literature, or simply anyone who likes reading literary novels and wants to read them better (let us assume that anyone in the first of these categories also belongs to the second).

Manet, Déjeuner sur l'herbe

As Macaulay's schoolboy knows, Edouard Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe was (according to Antonin Proust) inspired by the sight of bathers at Argenteuil, refused by the Salon in 1863, subsequently shown in the Salon des Refusés the same year, scandalised the Parisian establishment (or at any rate the tiny handful of them who would raghe in print about such matters). It refers to works by Raphael (more strictly, a print made to his design), Giorgione, and Titian, and places itself very consciously in the fête champêtre genre. At the same time, it passes on the realism of Courbet while inspiring the loose brushwork of Monet and the Impressionists, rejects the official art of gradual tonalities for harsher transitions, answers Baudelaire's call to paint scenes of modern life, uses real people - the men are from the artist's family - for the models, employs studio lighting (look at the shadows), and distorts perspective (the girl behind is too big). The girls may be prostitutes (Matthew Collings says the painting is 'about prostitution' which seems to me a little over-confident), but the scene is certainly two men taking them out for a picnic.

These facts, and many more, and commentaries about them, can be retrieved from the sources below. But looking at the painting now, leaving the art historical erudition until later/never, what experience do we get? To me it seems astonishingly contemporary, like a postmodern exercise in ironic quotation. The world of river gods and Venus of Urbino is summoned up only to be collapsed into the modern scene of profligate flaneurs and courtesans. Heritage alluded to and deconstructed with irony. Very modern, very modernist. It's a picture about taking girls out for some fun, yet as the men are obviously wittering away about some poet or philosopher it's hard to feel an erotic charge (we're told the girl looks at us confrontationally, like Manet's Olympia (same model),but I wonder if she isn't appealing to be rescued from these bores). It's a classical pastoral scene, except it isn't because it's in modern dress, and it's as much about city types as the pleasures of the countryside. Modern and ancient, sexy but not really, town and country, shameless (as the nude girl staring undemurely out was by 1863 standards) but also dressed up.

Above all, it seems to be a fiction which keeps reminding us it's  fiction. One of the very unintellectual pleasures of the classical landscape is that you can, in your imagination, step into it, feel the soft breeze, watch your long shadow in the grass, catch the last glow of the sun on the back of your hand, exchange verses with a shepherd, scramble into a ruin to contemplate time, that sort of thing. But as soon as we step into this scene, we're reminded that it's just pretend: the lighting, the abruptness of the brushstrokes seems, in a very postmodern way, to call attention to its own artificiality (and to its own painterly skill, especially in the superb still life of fruit, a painting within a painting). Of course an artwork loudhailing its own arfulness is classical too: Claude paintings shout at us 'Look how well composed I am! Look at the way the tress frame the scene, and chromatic perspective takes your eye from one plane to another!'. Yet there it seems not to obstruct us getting into the stage set and making believe it's real. Manet's Déjeuner seems more intent on this, though that may just be because it cannot shake off its iconic status, and we know we can scarcely escape standing before it and congratulating ourselves on how our sensibilities are more generous than the benighted Salon jury's (which they probably are). The works iconic modernist status must owe something to its references to the past, and if it announces the arrival of the new, the honest eye looking at real life in all its unmythical ordinariness, that authenticity is somehow bound up with the obvious artifice of treatment and composition. So modernity needs the past, and truth needs artifice? All of this is to see it from a contemporary perspective of course, but - as the painting seems to remind us - that's the only one we have.

Helpful entry in Wikipedia
Entry on Musée d'Orsay site
Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen What Great Paintings Say (Taschen, 1997), vol. 3, 156-60.
New Britain Museum of American Art covers the story and reproduces some later versions of the painting, by Monet, Picasso and others
A nice personal reflection by Blake Morrison

Short video on painting on SmartHistory
Clip from Impressionism: The Revenge of the Nice by Matthew Collings
Programme devoted to Déjeuner on Private Life of a Masterpiece
Film on Manet by Waldemar Januszak, embeds painting in biography and historical context.

Monday, 16 January 2012

El arte ensimismado

En El arte ensimismado (1963) Xavier Rubert de Ventós nos ofrece una introducción al arte moderno, o, más precisamente, a ese estilo de arte moderno del siglo XX que aún puede causar un cierto temor hasta en el público de alta preparación cultural: los cuadros de la más pura y austera abstracción, la música serializada y electrónica, la poesía experimental que parece un juego privado y sin sentido. El argumento del libro es que este arte hermético fue motivado por un instinto de auto-preservación en un mundo lleno de representaciones de todo tipo. Buscando un papel distinto, al arte arriba al extremo de un formalismo sin deseo de comunicar nada. La abstracción representa un determinado esfuerzo de crear un arte que no sea ni representativo, ni evocativo de emociones reconocibles, ni reducible a cualquier interpretación metafísica, ni parte de un esquema decorativo.
¿Y el resultado de este intento? El arte por el arte, una obra que no representa un objeto, porque es en sí el objeto (unas obras de Tàpies, por ejemplo), una composición sin enlaces  al mundo exterior o al mundo interior del espectador. Esta búsqueda de pura forma explica el serialismo en la música como una manera no de crear una nueva expresividad, sino de evitar expresión del todo. El ‘nouveau roman’ de Robbe-Grillet, la película experimental de Resnais, el bebop en jazz, el puro funcionalismo en la arquitectura – todo responde a este deseo de autonomía de la obra, casi diríamos hoy, una condición autística a nivel creativo.
El autor así nos da una perspectiva muy clara desde donde podemos contemplar  de nuevo unas obras de arte más intransigentes a la interpretación, y describe la situación artística de medianos del siglo veinte en el contexto de la filosofía existencial. Rubert de Ventós  - que escribió éste, su primer libro, a los 22 años - ayuda al lector a apreciar el arte moderna con una cierta simpatía por los motivos y preocupaciones que lo inspiró. Pero no pierde la distancia crítica, e investiga también los problemas con la posición que describe. Como producto, y objeto,  de la mente,  es el destino de la obra de arte padecer  ‘alienación’ (empleo el término del autor, en el sentido de percepción intencional) del espectador, y el formalismo puro parece una quimera. Con el tiempo todo se hace académico, habitual y viático de emoción y significado. Admiro la claridad del estilo, la comparación de las artes diferentes y el argumento muy enfocado y matizado. Anda qué debut!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Barcelona, The Raval (History)

The following text is translated / adapted from the site of the Ajuntament (Town Hall) of Barcelona. It provides a useful guide to the historical background of the Raval.

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El barrio del Rava
Fes clic per ampliar!
In Roman Barcelona (Barcino) there were roads that roughly defined the area of what was to be the Raval district. From this time to the fourteenth century, the Raval was an open field with cultivated land, lying  next to the city of Barcelona. En la Barcelona romana había caminos vecinales que dibujaron el contorno que el barrio tuvo más adelante.

El monasterio de Sant Pau del Camp fue el primer núcleo importante del Raval, anterior al siglo X, en torno al cual hubo una pequeña villa medieval vinculada al monThe Monastery of Sant Pau del Camp was the first important nucleus of the Raval. This church was built before the tenth century, and a small medieval village grew up around it. The growth of the Raval into  the form of a diamond took place between 1268 and 1348. These are the dates of the two rings of medieval walls which extended the Roman bounds of city. 1268 saw the construction of the second ring of walls under Jaume I. When further extension was needed, the third and final ring of walls was built under Peter the Ceremonious, 1348. The 1348 walls remained for just over 500 years, when they were knocked down to form the Eixample. They can still be traced today by streets called ‘Ronda’ and the Paral.lel.
La ciudad de Barcelona se encontraba ahogada por las murallas de Jaume I; Pere el Cerimoniós decidió levantar el tercer cinturón amurallado.Pere el Cerimoniós decided to construct the third ring of walls to meet the predicted urban growth. Existía la tendencia general de muchas ciudades de la época de rodear dentro de las murallas la extensión de terreno suficiente para prever la subsistencia de los habitantes en tiempo de guerras y asedios. The Raval was now enclosed and part of the city.  It was still farmland, and intended to provide for the subsistence of the population in times of wars and sieges. Otro motivo era localizar fuera del núcleo urbano los establecimientos, servicios y actividades más molestos o poco recomendables. But the city did not grow as expected in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century: there were economic difficulties (the sea trade moved to the Atlantic), political problems (Barcelona was ruined by the war against Juan II) and adverse social conditions (a demographic downturn was caused by plagues and epidemics). All of these halted the growth of the Raval, which remained in essence an agricultural area.
Entre el siglo XV y la desamortización de Mendizábal en el año 1837, el Raval se convirtió en "tierra de conventos".The Raval did, however, become "the land of monasteries." La gran cantidad de suelo edificable dio pie a la instalación de órdenes religiosas en el marco de la Contrarreforma impulsada por el Concilio de Trento (1543-1563). The large amount of available building land led to the installation of religious orders during the Counter-Reformation. One convent of the Raval was the Dominican Convent dels Angels, built by the architect Bartolomeu Roig in the middle of the sixteenth century. This gothic building, led into by a modest renaissance facade, is now an exhibition space, forming part of the cultural complex formed by MACBA and the CCCB in the square named after it, La Plaza dels Angels, a striking mixture of old and new. “The land of monasteries” came to an end with ‘La Desamortización’ in 1837, when many monasteries across Spain were expropriated and privatized by a liberal government.
A principios del siglo XVIII, las industrias empezaron a instalarse en medio de huertos, conventos y casas gremiales.In the early eighteenth century, the Raval changed its character as industries began to settle among the gardens, convents and guild houses. La prohibición del año 1718 de importar tejidos estampados favoreció la aparición de la industria manufacturera. In 1718 a ban on imported printed fabrics led to the emergence of the manufacturing industry. Entre 1770 y 1840 se produjo la industrialización definitiva del barrio del Raval. Between 1770 and 1840 the Raval was industrialized. A partir de la segunda mitad de 1700 empezaron a aparecer nuevas calles con fábricas y viviendas para los trabajadores. From 1750 new streets began to appear with factories and housing for workers. Desaparecieron las casas gremiales o se subdividieron en muchas viviendas de alquiler para acoger a los numerosos campesinos que huían del hambre del campo (crisis agrícola de 1765-1766). Guild houses disappeared or were subdivided into rented tenements to accommodate the many hungry peasants fleeing the countryside (in particular at the time of a severe agricultural crisis in 1765-1766). Los trabajadores de las fábricas se quedaron a vivir en el Raval., cerca del trabajo. The factory workers settled in the Raval, closer to their place of work. Este barrio se convirtió en el más denso de Europa y se aprovechó hasta el último metro cuadrado edificable. This district became the most densely populated in Europe. Entre los años 1783 y 1785, se instaló la industria Erasme Gònima y se levantó la mayor fábrica de tejidos, hilados y estampados de su tiempo. Between 1783 and 1785 the ‘Erasme Gònima’ was established - the largest fabric manufacturer of the period.
Las jornadas de los obreros eran de doce horas (desde las cinco de la mañana hasta las ocho de la noche).The working days stretched from five in the morning until eight at night. En el año 1829, según el Padrón de Fabricantes, en el Raval había 74 fabricantes textiles, 2.443 telares y 657 máquinas de hilar. In 1829, according to the Census of Manufacturers, in the Raval there were 74 textile manufacturers, 657 looms, and 2,443 spinning machines. Destacaba la fábrica Bonaplata, instalada en la calle de los Tallers. Particularly important was the Bonaplata factory, installed in the Carrer dels Tallers. Tenía entre 600 y 700 trabajadores y era la primera que se impulsaba con vapor. It employed between 600 and 700 workers and was the first factory in Barcelona to be powered by steam. La culminación de todo este proceso fue la instalación conocida como casa-fábrica, donde coincidían las instalaciones fabriles, la representación institucional y la residencia del fabricante. The culmination of this process was the facility known as the ‘home-factory’, where manufacturing plants, institutional representation and the residence of the manufacturer all occupied the same area. Este es el caso de la España Industrial en el año 1839 en la calle de la Riereta. El Raval was the only place within the walls where it was possible to construct large buildings: outside the walls factories would be threatened by political instability, such as the Carlists (a political movement permanently at war with the monarchy), and by common banditry. The Raval was also well placed as an industrial centre as it offered an easy route to the port.
El mantenimiento de unos sueldos bajos, unas largas jornadas laborales, el cierre de las fábricas como demostración de fuerza de los fabricantes, la supresión de la sopa de caridad y la persecución de las asociaciones obreras hicieron que el 2 de julio de 1855 estallara una huelga bajo la consigna general del derecho de asociación y la jornada laboral de diez horas. Industrialisation was accompanied by industrial unrest. Low wages, long hours,  the closure of factories as a show of force by the manufacturers, the removal of charity soup and the prohibition of workers' associations led to a strike (July 2, 1855), in which workers demanded the right of association and a ten-hour workday. Las revueltas obreras contra las mecanizaciones modernas y diversas epidemias de cólera llevaron a tomar la decisión de derribar las murallas en el año 1859 y permitir así la expansión urbana e industrial fuera de un núcleo urbano insalubre y fácilmente controlable por un movimiento obrero que empezaba a organizarse. Workers' revolts against modern machinery,  and various cholera epidemics, helped lead to the decision to tear down the walls in 1859, thereby allowing expansion outside the old city, which was both unhealthy and easily controlled by an increasingly organized labour movement. El éxodo empresarial hacia la planura de Barcelona empezó a principios de los años sesenta. From the early 1860s, companies moved to the plain outside Barcelona being developed into the Eixample. In the new model city, the Raval became a peripheral area, chiefly providing workers’ tenement housing. In the early twentieth century it continued to have a predominantly working class population. Los movimientos de los barrio alcanzaron una importancia que rebasó sus fronteras. As such, it was of wider national importance in the story of organised labour. In 1870 the first Spanish Labour Congress took place.  In 1871 the largest Catalan union of the time (of textile workers) joined the First International, and in 1888, the large modern union, the UGT, was also founded  in the Raval.
The El Raval se fue convirtiendo cada vez más en un barrio de viviendas para las clases con menos poder adquisitivo, entre las cuales los inmigrantes (exposiciones universales de 1888 y 1929) eran una parte destacada.TheT Raval was becoming increasingly an area of ​​housing for the poor, in particular immigrant workers (for example those employed for the world fairs of 1888 and 1929) This working class played an important role during the ‘Semana Trágica’ (26-31 July 1909), a week of riots during which the Raval was one of the main centres for the burning of convents and the confrontation with the army. [Added: The anarcho-syndicalists played an important part in the organisation of strikes and revolutionary opposition to the established order. This tradition is still alive in the Raval today: in 1988, beneath the headquarters of the CNT Union (Confederación Nacional de Trabajo) a bookshop opened dedicated to anarchist and socialist publications, with its own magazine, ‘Solidaridad Obrera’ (‘Workers’ Solidarity’). The bookshop is called ‘La Rosa del Foc’(The Fiery Rose), which was the name coined for Barcelona as parts of it burned in the ‘Setmana Trágica’ a century ago.]
El hacinamiento humano, una red viaria estrecha y tortuosa, la proximidad del puerto y la dedicación de muchos inmuebles a bares, salas de espectáculos y casas de tolerancia, acabaron configurando una zona en el sur del Raval que hacia el año 1925 el periodista Àngel Marsà bautizó con el nombre de Barrio Chino.Overcrowding, narrow winding roads, the proximity of the port, and the proliferation of bars, clubs and brothels, characterized a zone in the south of the Raval that in 1925 the journalist Àngel Marsà baptized ‘Chinatown’ (Barri Chino). Las destrucciones de la guerra y la miseria de la posguerra perjudicaron considerablemente la vida nocturna del barrio, en un proceso que acabó con el decreto de cierre de las casas de prostitución en el año 1956. The Civil Car (1936-39) greatly damaged this nightlife district, and after the war reformation was pursued by other means: the closure of brothels was decreed in 1956.
Las primeras voces que reclamaron la mejora del barrio surgieron en los años treinta, durante la Segunda República 1931-1936, con las propuestas de los arquitectos del GATCPAC.The first voices that called for the improvement of the Raval came in the thirties, during the Second Republic (1931-1936), with the proposals of the architects of GATCPAC. El plan Macià ofrecía soluciones racionalistas e integradas en los problemas del barrio. The Macià plan offered integrated solutions to the problems of the neighbourhood. Pero fueron las bombas de la Guerra Civil las que hicieron los primeros saneamientos urbanísticos en el sur del Raval (avenida de García Morato, hoy avenida de las Drassanes). But it was the bombing of the Civil War which led to the first urban sanitation in the southern Raval (García Morato Avenue, Avenue of the Drassanes today). Durante los años ochenta del siglo XX, la Administración impulsó una decidida política de reformas y rehabilitación de viviendas, de apertura de espacios y creación de equipamientos para la comunidad, que fue dejando en segundo término el nombre de Barrio Chino para recuperar la denominación histórica del Raval. During the 1980s, the Administration promoted a policy of housing improvements, creating open spaces and opening facilities for the community. This was the 'espinjament' or 'cleaning' programme. The name Chinatown was gradually replaced by the historical designation ‘Raval’.
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