Images from the famous 1967 movie

The classic 1967 movie, with Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp, was restored and re-released four years ago.  It’s probably just as well not to have seen the film before we read the book, as I imagine the faces of the cast would have made an indelible impression upon our imaginations.  In spite of the stellar credentials of the director (John Schlesinger) and the writer of the screenplay (Frederic Raphael), I can’t help wondering whether the melodrama of the story and the glamor of the casting overpowered the subtleties (and charms) of Hardy’s novel … but The Guardian published a rave retrospective about the movie in 2015, which I attach below.
Guardian Review, Far From The Madding Crowd (2015 retrospective)

Original Illustrations by Helen Allingham

Helen Allingham (1848-1928) drew twelve full-page engravings for the first edition of Far from the Madding Crowd (1874).  The Victorian Web has very full descriptions of these illustrations, as well as a biographical note about Allingham.  (If the Slide Show doesn’t work on your computer, you can scroll down the page and access the images individually.)

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Individual Images

Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

[British] Schoolchildren used to learn this resonant memorial to humble rustic folk, and they still should – Carol Rumens, The Guardian (UK), January 2011

Here are some excerpts from Gray’s Elegy, the poem from which Hardy derived the title for his fourth novel.  Below this, I’ve attached PDFs of the complete poem and of a fine introduction to the Elegy written by poet Carol Rumens as part of The Guardian’s long-running Poem of the Week series.

From Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth, e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. . . .

. . .

Th’ applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet even these bones from insult to protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. . . .

Carol Rumens on Gray’s Elegy, The Guardian Poem of the Week (Jan 2011)

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray (complete)

Farmer Oak (Hardy), John Farmer (Thoreau), and Flute Music

While reading the beginning of Chapter 2 in Far From the Madding Crowd [Penguin edition, p. 9-10], I found myself in a surprisingly familiar scene. Gabriel Oak is playing his flute while Hardy philosophizes around the music.  We’ve been here before – in a book published twenty years earlier and on the other side of the Atlantic.  When reading Walden, we encountered John Farmer sitting in his doorway listening to a flute while Thoreau philosophized around him.
Below is the last paragraph of “Higher Laws” in Thoreau’s Walden.  As Hardy’s passage is considerably longer, I’ve not posted it here but have put together a PDF file that contains both excerpts.

John Farmer sat at his door one September evening, after a hard day’s work, his mind still running on his labor more or less. Having bathed, he sat down to re-create his intellectual man. It was a rather cool evening, and some of his neighbors were apprehending a frost. He had not attended to the train of his thoughts long when he heard some one playing on a flute, and that sound harmonized with his mood. Still he thought of his work; but the burden of his thought was, that though this kept running in his head, and he found himself planning and contriving it against his will, yet it concerned him very little. It was no more than the scurf of his skin, which was constantly shuffled off. But the notes of the flute came home to his ears out of a different sphere from that he worked in, and suggested work for certain faculties which slumbered in him. They gently did away with the street, and the village, and the state in which he lived. A voice said to him,—Why do you stay here and live this mean moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you? Those same stars twinkle over other fields than these.—But how to come out of this condition and actually migrate thither? All that he could think of was to practise some new austerity, to let his mind descend into his body and redeem it, and treat himself with ever increasing respect.

Final Paragraph of “Higher Laws” in Thoreau, Walden

John Farmer (Thoreau) and Farmer Oak (Hardy) (PDF file)

P.P. (Pedant’s Point) Speaking as a former flute player, I can’t avoid mentioning that flutist is the original form of the word (first appearance, according to the OED, was in 1603).  By contrast, flautist first occurred in 1860.  As I understand it, this change was instigated by 19th century English musicians and writers of program notes in order to distinguish their flute players from the French (flûtiste).  I’ve always thought (and been taught) that American flutists didn’t need to indulge in such Francophobic affectation.

Leo Marx on ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’

One of the great scholars of American Studies at Amherst College and MIT, Leo Marx, wrote an essay about Bartleby the Scrivener for Sewanee Review in 1953.  (Somewhere in my old files, I still have my notes from Leo’s lectures on Moby Dick and Bartleby in his American Literature course at Amherst in 1967.)  Below is a PDF for anyone interested in some classic insights into Melville’s mysterious story.

Leo Marx, ‘Melville’s Parable of the Walls’ (1953)

Thesis about ‘flying away’ in African-American folklore & a note from The New Yorker

Elissa has discovered an honors thesis (from Ball State University) entitled, Fly Away Home: Tracing the Flying African Folktale from Oral Literature to Verse and Prose, a chapter of which is devoted to Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.  I’ve posted below a PDF file of that chapter (it runs 10 pages) and another PDF of the entire thesis.  —  Many thanks to Elissa for some great research.

Elissa also found a short piece about the same subject in The New Yorker from earlier this year.  The writer is a documentary film-maker.

The New Yorker: Revisiting the Myth of the Flying African (March 7, 2019)

‘Way in the Middle of the Air,’ by Ray Bradbury (vs. ‘I’ll Fly Away’?)

A few hours after our first discussion of Song of Solomon, I stumbled across an old short story by Ray Bradbury that echoed in a most bizarre way the imagery about “flying away” that we found so prevalent in Morrison’s novel.  Way in the Middle of the Air is one of the most famous (infamous? well, not really…) chapters in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and has been discussed endlessly in high school English classes ever since the 1960’s.  Given when it was written (late 1940’s) and its subject matter (a liberal northerner writing about the redneck south), there’s a lot of casual racism and stereotyping (Bradbury was no Faulkner). On the other hand, I can hear different layers of “group fantasy” wrapped around each other in fascinating combinations (white on white, white on black, black on white … not to mention north vs south, elites vs ‘good old boys’ etc.)  So as an exercise in “comparative imaginations,” I find this short science fiction fable interesting and not irrelevant to our discussion of the myths in Song of Solomon.  —  Tom

Ray Bradbury, ‘Way in the Middle of the Air,’ from The Martian Chronicles

“A Life in Language” – An Interview from The Guardian, 2012

An interview with Toni Morrison in The Guardian newspaper (UK) in 2012 might be subtitled, A Life in Language.  Morrison speaks about her work and her childhood; politics and culture; and, at the end, the untimely death of one of her sons.  She relates everything she says back to language – its use and misuse.

The Guardian, Toni Morrison Interview (13 Ap 2012) (PDF file)

(Link to the original Guardian article )

Excerpts from the article [I retain the British spelling]:

When Morrison was 17, she had tried out a thought experiment. … On the news, she had seen footage of some white mothers in the south trying to turn over a school bus with black children in it. “I didn’t know if I could turn over a bus full of little white kids. I didn’t know if I could feel that … fury. And I tried very hard to. This is what I did: I said suppose horses began to speak. And began to demand their rights. Now, I’ve ridden horses. They’re very good workers. They’re very good racehorses. Suppose they just want more. Suppose they want to go to school! Suppose they want to sit next to me in the theatre. I began to feel this sense of – ‘I like you, but…’; ‘You’re good, but…’ Suppose they want to sleep with my children?!” She’s laughing heartily now. “I had to go outside the species! But it worked, I could feel it. You know; don’t sit next to me.”

[Her novel Home] is dedicated to her son, Slade, who died 18 months ago and in the face of whose death she found herself wordless. She could not work. She could barely speak and didn’t want to hear comforting words from others.

“What do you say? There really are no words for that. There really aren’t. Somebody tries to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ People say that to me. There’s no language for it. Sorry doesn’t do it. I think you should just hug people and mop their floor or something.”

“I used to think there was a Republican attitude and language that, although I vehemently disagreed with it because I thought it was fraudulent, it wasn’t dumb. It made some sort of sense. If you really and truly think that the United States is free, and capital is free – none of that’s true, but if you really believe it – you can develop an argument that’s not embarrassing. But they don’t do that any more. They use coded words.”

[Editor:  Such as Newt Gingrich referring to Obama as the “food-stamp president”; Mitt Romney accusing him of wanting America to be a “welfare state”; etc.]

From an interview with Toni Morrison

If you substitute “segregation” or “white racism” for “slavery,” the following quotations can apply to Song of Solomon as well as Beloved (the original context).  (T.L.)

From a 1987 interview with Toni Morrison in The New York Times when Beloved was published. Expanded from Seth’s original post:

The novel is not, [Morrison] said, about slavery. ”Slavery is very predictable,” she said. ”There it is, and there’s some stuff about how it is, and then you get out of it or you don’t. It can’t be driven by slavery. It has to be the interior life of some people, a small group of people, and everything that they do is impacted on by the horror of slavery, but they are also people.”

”There are certain emotions that are useful for the construction of a text,” she said, ”and some are too small. Anger is too tiny an emotion to use when you’re writing, and compassion is too sloppy. Almost everything that makes you want to write, or feel like writing, is not useful in the act of writing. So it’s the mediation between those two states, the compulsion and all those feelings, that make you compelled.”

What is useful, she said, is the images. ”The controlling image is useful,” she said, ”because it determines the language that informs the text. Once I know what the shape of the scar is, once I know that there are two patches of orange in that quilt, then I can move. Once I have the controlling image, which can also work as the metaphor – that is where the information lodges. When I know where the white space is, when I know where the broad strokes are.”

Ms. Morrison said that unlike some authors, who despise being labeled – a Jewish writer, for instance, or a Southern writer – she does not mind being called a black writer, or a black woman writer. ”I’ve decided to define that, rather than having it be defined for me,” she said. ”In the beginning, people would say, ‘Do you regard yourself as a black writer, or as a writer?’ and they also used the word woman with it – woman writer. So at first I was glib and said I’m a black woman writer, because I understood that they were trying to suggest that I was ‘bigger’ than that, or better than that. I simply refused to accept their view of bigger and better. I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither. I really do. So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.”

The New York Times, August 26th, 1987