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Alex Carnevale

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is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in henry james (3)


In Which We Careened About A Dray Loaded With Sand

False Notes

The letters of Henry James from Italy paint a disturbing and often contradictory picture. On one hand you have an educated observer open to a variety of impressions and situations detailing events. On the other, Henry seems oblivious to much of what he experiences, so much so that you have to wonder what percentage of the world he encounters on even footing. In the following selections, James details his view of Italy — it is the view of Englishman, granted, but an appreciative one.

The first month I was in Florence I had a villa at Bellosguardo, kindly sublet to me by a friend (Constance Fenimore Woolson the novelist—an excellent woman, of whom I am very fond, though she is almost impracticably deaf), who had taken it for three years and was not yet ready to go into it, having another on her hands.

A cook went with it—a venerable—and veritable chef—so that I was very comfortable—and blissfully lifted out of that little simmering social pot—a not very savoury human broth—into which Florence resolves itself today.

It is a pity it is personally so tiresome, for (allowing for the comparative ugliness of its winter phase, with hard cold and dusty tramontana) it had never seemed to me, naturally and artistically, more delightful. And the views from the villas on the hills (I was at a good many) are as beautiful—really—as your memory must tell you. On January 1st my friend came into her villa and I descended into Florence—where (I am told) I went “out” a good deal. Why, I don’t know—as it was very exactly what I had left London not to do.

I am also told I was “lionized”—and the wherefore of this I know still less. On reflection, in fact, I greatly doubt it. But I did see a great many people; too many, for what they were. I won’t tell you their names, or more than that they were members of the queer, promiscuous polyglot (most polyglot in the world) Florentine society.


Venice is wintry yet and so little terne, in consequence; also the calles and campos impress the sense with a kind of glutinous, malodorous damp. But it is Venice, none the less, and it is a ravishment to be here and to think that every week, at this season, will bring out a little more of the colour. I have a hope, if I stay in Italy late enough, of going down to Rome for ten days in May—when the damaging crowd shall have taken itself off. I dream then of also taking a little tour of old towns in Tuscany. If I am able to do this I shall certainly give you news of Rome.


I enjoyed my absence, and I shall endeavour to repeat it every year, for the future, on a smaller scale: that is, to leave London, not at the beginning of the winter but at the end, by the mid-April, and take the period of the insufferable Season regularly in Italy. It was a great satisfaction to me to find that I am as fond of that dear country as I ever was—and that its infinite charm and interest are one of the things in life to be most relied upon. I was afraid that the dryness of age—which drains us of so many sentiments—had reduced my old tendresse to a mere memory. But no—it is really so much in my pocket, as it were, to feel that Italy is always there.


De Vere Gardens always follows me.


There are many things I must ask you to excuse. One of them is this paper from the village grocer of an unsophisticated Bavarian valley. The others I will tell you when we next meet. Not that they matter much; for you won’t excuse them—you never do. But I have your commands to write and tell you “all about” something or other—I think it was Venice—and at any rate Venice will do. Venice always does.


This is a delightful moment to be in Italy, and really nowadays, the only right one—for the herd of tourists has departed, the scramble at the stations is no more, and one seems alone with the dear old land, who at the same time, seems alone with herself. I am happy to say that I am as fond as ever of this tender little Florence, where it doesn’t seem a false note even to be staying with an “American doctor.” My friend Baldwin is a charming and glowing little man, who, coming here eight or ten years ago, has made himself a first place, and who seems to consider it a blessing to him that I should abide a few days in his house.


When, three mornings ago, I rose early, to take the train for Florence, and in the cool, fresh 7 o’clock light, was rowed through the delicious half-stirred place and the imbroglio of little silent plashing waterways to the station, it was really heartbreaking to come away—to come out into the dust and banalité of the rest of the world. (Venice clings closer to one by its dustlessness than perhaps by any other one charm.) But already the sweetness of Florence tastes. I am, however, seriously thinking, or rather dreaming, of putting my hand on some little cheap permanent refuge in Venice—some little perch over the water, with a bed and a table in it, to call one’s own and come away to, without the interposition of luggage and hotels, whenever the weight of London, at certain times, is no longer to be borne.


At Verona I collapsed upon my old hotel—which, however, this time I found excellent and not exceptionally dear.

Some day you might do worse than try it—the woods, the walks, the views, the excursions, the places to stroll in, and sit, and spend the day in the open air, all being, apparently, exquisite and extremely numerous. The only blot is that one has to make sure of quarters a long time in advance—unless one stays with Mme Peruzzi: a privilege that I am actually engaged in wriggling out of.


Italy is already a dream and Venice a superstition.

I have been here (in this particular desolation,) since yesterday noon, intently occupied in realizing that I am an uncle. It is very serious—but I am fully taking it in. I don’t see as yet, how long I shall remain one—but sufficient unto the day are the nephews thereof.

I can only, for all sorts of practical reasons, live in London, and must always keep an habitation “mounted” there. But whenever I have been in Venice (especially the last two or three times), I have felt the all but irresistible desire to put my hand on some modest pied-à-terre there—modest enough to be compatible with the retention of my London place, which is rather expensive; and such as I might leave standing empty for months together—without scruple—in my absence, and deposit superfluous luggage in, when I wished to “visit” Italy. This humble dream I still cherish—but it is most vivid when I’m on the spot—i.e. Venice; it fades a little when I’m not there.

I rejoice in everything that may be comfortable in your situation or interesting in your adventures.



In Which When I Went To Iowa I Had Never Heard of Faulkner

flannery's desk and typewriter

The Thing She Did Best

Somebody was telling me that Malcolm Cowley had delivered himself of an essay in the last Harper's magazine on the state of the novel. He didn't find them now as good as in the 30s when folks were protesting. I didn't rush out to buy one.

I hope if I am eating salt in august I can get to see you before you start off in the airplane. I don't make no plans.

- Flannery O'Connor in a letter to Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, 5/7/53

Before Milledgeville, Georgia was just another place for Ben Roethlisberger to degrade women, it was the country home of Flannery O'Connor, one of the finest writers we have known. Flannery wasn't exactly the most politically correct person, and her political and religious views held her apart from the hoity-toity cultural decacons of that age. Nevertheless, respect for her incomparable prose style and mastery of the short story form was generally acknowledged by her critics and her naysayers alike. She was a devout Catholic, and her faith in God sustained her through countless medical difficulties before she passed away from lupus at the age of 39. In her letters, she proves to be the among the sauciest pen pals of the era, and in the following excerpts, she reflects on her influences.

To Sally Fitzgerald

mid-September 1951

I certainly enjoyed Catcher in the Rye. Read it up the same day it came. Regina said I was going to RUIN MY EYES reading all that in one afternoon. I reckon that man owes a lot to Ring Lardner. Anyway he is very good. Regina said would she like to read it and I said, well it was very fine. She said yes but would she like to the read it, so I said she would have to try it and see. She hasn't tried it yet. She likes books with Frank Buck and a lot of wild animals.

To Robert Lowell

2 May 1952

I was powerful glad to hear from you and I am pleased that you liked the gorilla. I hope you'll like the whole thing. I asked Bob Giroux to send you one.

I've been in Georgia with the buzzards for the last year and a half on acct. of arthritis but I am going to Conn. in June to see the Fitzgeralds. They have about a million children all with terrific names and all beautiful. I'm living with my mother in the country. She raises cows and I raise ducks and pheasants. The pheasant cock has horns and looks like some of those devilish people and dogs in Rousseau's paintings. I have been taking painting myself, painting mostly chickens and guineaus and pheasants. My mother thinks they're great stuff. She prefers me painting to me writing. She hasn't learned to love Mrs. Watts. Harcourt sent my book to Evelyn Waugh and his comment was: "If this is really the work of a young lady, it is a remarkable product." My mother was vastly insulted. She put the emphasis on if and lady. Does he suppose you're not a lady? she says. WHO is he?

To Ben Griffith

13 February 1954

Thank you so very much for your kind letter. I am much more like Enoch than like the gorilla and I always answer every letter I get, at once, at length. This may be because I don't get many.

I don't know how to cure the source-itis except to tell you that I can discover a good many possible sources myself for Wise Blood but I am often embarrassed to find I read the sources after I had written the book. I have been exposed to Wordsworth's "Intimation" ode but that is all I can say about it. I have one of those food-chopper brains that nothing comes out of the way it comes in. The Oedipus business comes nearer home. Of course Haze Mote is not an Oedipus figure but there are the obvious resemblances. At the time I was writing the last of the book, I was living in Connecticut with the Robert Fitzgeralds. Robert Fitzgerald translated the Theban cycle with Dudley Fitts, and their translation of Oedipus Rex had just come out and I was much taken with it. Do you know the translation? I am not an authority on such things but I think it must be the best, and it certainly is very beautiful. Anyway, all I can say is, I did a lot of thinking about Oedipus.

My background and my inclinations are both Catholic and I think this is very apparent in the book. Something is usually said about Kafka in connection with Wise Blood but I have never succeeded in making my way through The Castle or The Trial and I wouldn't pretend to know anything about Kafka. I think reading a little of him perhaps makes you a bolder writer. My reading is botchy. I have what passes for an education in this day and time, but I am not deceived by it. I read Henry James, thinking this may affect my writing for the better without my knowing how. A touching faith, and I have others.

The following is excerpt from a letter to one of Flannery's longtime readers and letter correspondents in August of 1955:

I didn't really start to read until I went to Graduate School and then I began to read and write at the same time. When I went to Iowa I had never heard of Faulkner, Kafka, Joyce, much less read them. Then I began to read everything ay once, so much so that I didn't have time I suppose to be influenced by any one writer. I read all the Catholic novelists, Mauriac, Bernanos, Bloy, Greene, Waugh; I read all the nuts like Djuna Barnes and Dorothy Richardson and Va. Woolf (unfair to the dear lady, of course); I read the best Southern writers like Faulkner and the Tates, K.A. Porter, Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor; read the Russians, not Tolstoy so much as Doestoyevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov and Gogol. I became a great admirer of Conrad and have read almost all his fiction. 

I have totally skipped such people as Dreiser, Anderson (except for a few stories) and Thomas Wolfe. I have learned something from Hawthorne, Flaubert, Balzac and something from Kafka, though I have never been able to finish one of his novels. I've read almost all of Henry James - from a sense of High Duty and because when I read James I feel something is happening to me, in slow motion but happening nevertheless. I admire Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets. But always the largest thing that looms up is The Humerous Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. I am sure he wrote them all while drunk too.

young flanneryTo Elizabeth Bishop

2 August 1959

I have at last got my novel out of the house and on the train and haven't yet self-employed myself back on anything serious. After you have worked on a thing seven years, it is too close for you to see it with precision. I see my stories much more clearly because they haven't exhausted me by the time I finish them. My book is about a boy who has been raised up in the backwoods by his great uncle to be a prophet. The book is about his struggle not to be a prophet - which he loses. I am resigned to the fact that I am going to be the book's greatest admirer.

Yesterday I sold a pair of peacocks, the first time I have sold any. These people showed up in a long white car, the woman in short shorts. They obviously had plenty of money that they weren't used to. She flew a Piper Cub, kept two coons, and what she called a "Weimeraw" dog. He was going to start in on pheasants, peafowl an dbullfrogs. They came in and admired the house and she said, "We was in Macon looking for some French provincial furniture. I want me a love seat." The man was a structural engineer. He said he had a friend who was a writer in Mississippi and I said who was that. He said, "His name is Bill Faulkner. I don't know if he's any good or not but he's a mighty nice fellow." I told him he was right good.

Flannery O'Connor died in 1964. You can purchase Flannery's selected letters, The Habit of Being, edited by Sally Fitzgerald, here.

This Recording Presents How and Why to Write

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Gene Wolfe, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Creeley, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)

"So Sleepy" - Fiona Apple (mp3)

"Why Try To Change Me Now" - Fiona Apple (mp3)

"I Walk A Little Faster" - Fiona Apple (mp3)


In Which We Are Either Betty, Veronica or Neither

The Italian Archie


James Ivory's The Golden Bowl begins with two lovers in the ruins of Rome, explaining why they can't be together. The woman Charlotte (Uma Thurman) has no money. Neither does the man, native to Rome Amerigo (Jeremy Northam). So it is concluded they cannot really be together, despite the exquisite image of their bodies pressed against one another.

A few years later, the man marries Charlotte's girlhood friend Maggie (Kate Beckinsale). This is not in itself a tragedy. The new woman is warm and loving, her father is loaded with cash he plans to spend on building a museum on the Upper East Side of New York City. Amerigo is ostensibly happy with his new arrangement, but then Charlotte appears in his life again in time for his wedding to Maggie.

Early in The Golden Bowl, Charlotte and Amerigo go shopping for a wedding gift for the latter's fiancee. They visit a jewelry store where they see the eponymous Golden Bowl. Charlotte appraises the rest of the collection and pronounces the verdict, whether out of malice or good sense: "There is nothing here that she could wear." The two quarrel about the collapse of their previous relationship. Over time, Charlotte becomes engaged to Maggie's overbearing father. Charlotte and Amerigo then consummate their relationship on the sly.

Adultery is tricky business in the cinema. The male adulterer is rarely approved of. He is largely given a bad rap; he sometimes hurts Richard Gere's feelings. Charlotte's portrayal is no better.  Such drama is the kind of illusion only important to the rich. Perhaps the relative economic status of these individuals is immaterial, but as they stroll casually through an epic mansion, their concerns seem less important than the decor. The once-deprived Amerigo stands at attention to the splendor of the other creatures whose world he inhabits. For him, the only real world is Rome. He is always trying to go back there.

Cheating on someone seems exciting, for awhile. Cheating on your wife with her father's wife, even more so. The excitement thus heightened, Amerigo's swarthy attentions are naturally paid to his vivacious blond former lover rather than his brunette wife who so recently, we suspect, had breast enhancement surgery. Such were the strange vicissitudes of life around the turn of the century.

Banging your wife's father's wife is known in some circles as the reverse Oedipus; in other circles it invariably results in a Cleveland Steamer and the severing of all concurrent relationships. Our families naturally become closer together in affluence, and such implausibilities are rapidly rendered most plausible.

Looked at from the other perspective, it is still harder to merit sympathies for the victims of such Biblical indiscretions. Maggie is a naïve imp; she cares for Amerigo's child from a previous whatever with all the aplomb we expect from how the wealthy tolerate weaknesses in the less fortunate. If the would-be victim is already vulnerable, aren't they asking to be taken advantage of?

Anjelica Huston plays the original matchmaker of Maggie and Amerigo, Fanny. No one better channels the way a segment of yourself disappears by how you behave than Huston when she practices her craft. Having set up Maggie and Amerigo, Anjelica's Fanny feels great guilt, even harassing Amerigo when he risks appearing with Charlotte in public: "I have noticed before with you that you like having a thing without liking to call it by its name."

Despite disapproval from such quarters, Amerigo carries on his affair. Naturally, the possibility of love within other love excites him. It excites every man with blood flowing towards his penis. Amerigo becomes the victim of these two feminine ideals. Henry James essentially told us about the first Archie.

Uma Thurman or Charlotte or whatever you insist on calling her, is the escape. Amerigo met a woman who freed him from an entire part of his self-possession. There are reasons, in themselves, to disregard everything you know.

Kate Beckinsale or Molly McAleer or Maggie is the darker, more intensive brew. (Brunettes are always symbols for something or other.) From the moment you start dating her, you have to be good with the idea you will appear in every page of her personal journal, that she will take everything from you and spit out whatever doesn't make sense or reconfirm her view of the world. Such paramours are usually either a tremendous disappointment or the love of your life.

Despite having two female protagonists, emanating from the approximate direction of The Golden Bowl is a rare misogyny. Someone once called a friend of mine a literary misogynist, but this wasn't quite true. The real adulterer is not a misogynist or hypocrite, for he does not pretend to offer any of the comforts of a lover; he manages the abandonment of those comforts. When you find a woman willing to give that up, you can hardly blame the man involved.  

The relationship between Charlotte and Nick Nolte's Adam Verver is the most fascinating of those in The Golden Bowl. We all wonder at how relationships begun under shaky premises evolve and develop. Charlotte has no love for Adam; she disdains his museum, she finds his art collecting eccentric in a fashion that deliberately takes attention away from her. In time, they move closer together, eventually becoming intimate. In this case the American identity, in photos and film, the art forms themselves, repossess the people they represent.

This is The Golden Bowl's way of suggesting that all love deserves a context. Everything deserves a context, argued James in every line of his extant prose. His mastery was in making the unappealing overly appealing, and then switching it around again. He was never afraid to push people towards each other, even in hatred, to see how the rest of the world was accommodated by the result.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He tumbls here and twitters here.

"Simple Line of Decline"  - For Love Not Lisa (mp3)

"Travis Hoffmann" - For Love Not Lisa (mp3)

"Traces" - For Love Not Lisa (mp3)