Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Astrologers in the classroom

A pleasant surprise this morning, I find myself on the syllabus of Dr. Miriam Burstein's "Introduction to Literary Analysis" course. Rather, I find my novel The Astrologer on Dr Burstein's syllabus, which is much better for everyone concerned. Here's the course listing:
ENG 303.01 Introduction to Literary Analysis
CRN #5435
10:10 - 11:00 a.m. M W F
Dr. Miriam Burstein
Location: TBD

This course offers students a "toolkit" for close reading. We will work with multiple genres—poetry, fiction, drama, film—and practice the skills necessary for analyzing and appreciating each. Among other things, students will practice basic poetic scansion, learn what constitutes different genres, and develop a working knowledge of critical vocabulary. This is a hands-on course, not a lecture: students should come prepared for in-class discussion and regular exercises. Readings include extensive poetry selections; Shakespeare's Hamlet; Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; John Updike's Gertrude and Claudius; and Scott G. F. Bailey's The Astrologer. Three essays, midterm, final, group oral presentation.
I am pleased and flattered that Dr Burstein is teaching the book. You wouldn't believe the number of readers who didn't see that it's a sideways version of "Hamlet." That's the last I'll say about that.

I suppose I should read that Updike novel someday. We seem to have two copies of it on the shelves. No, don't ask me how that happened. Meanwhile, publication of the second edition of The Astrologer is coming soon. It will be available (as a special order, at the very least) from any book shop with an Ingram account (which is at least every bookseller in America), or also from the usual online venues. When will that be, you ask. Soon oh soon, I say. No I don't have an actual date. Let's say two weeks or so. There will be some sort of change in the sidebar over there, and a page will magically appear on this blog to shill for the book. And then I won't talk about it any more.

Meanwhile, I am harrassing literary agents about another novel. We'll see how that goes. Also meanwhile, I have found another Pontoppidan novel in English. A middle-period Pontoppidan, and much shorter than Lucky Per, which I am close to finishing. Expect to see a final post about Lucky Per, a post I am thinking of calling "Per's Progress." That's telegraphing my punch, innit?

21 comments:

  1. You must keep us posted with all that you discover about the class's reactions/responses to your novel. Best wishes for success on the agent and publisher quest. There is, though, the curious thing about quests in literature: what the quester ostensibly is seeking is not really the object that he ultimately discovers. As for Hamlet spin-offs, I wonder if anyone has written anything form the POV of Ophelia, Horatio, or Fortinbras -- with the latter being my odds on favorite for the most interesting perspective.

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  2. The protagonist in The Astrologer is actually based on Horatio. In earlier versions, his name was actually Horatio, and long sections of the book took place in Wittenberg, with Horatio and Hamlet as college chums. Or as rich college boy and his tutor. There was also a baker's daughter and Fortinbras was essentially an anthropomorphised wolf in a plumed hat. It was fun stuff. My agent at the time hated it.

    I'm pretty sure there are several versions of the Ophelia story out there already.

    My favorite retelling of "Hamlet" is James Branch Cabell's Hamlet Had An Uncle, which is pretty close to the original story from 900 AD, and very funny. People forget that there were versions of "Hamlet" before Shakespeare got his hands on it.

    I don't actually plan to pump Dr Burstein for information about how the class is going. I think authors should stay away from conversations readers have about their books. Authors can't say anything useful about the novels they write, beyond what they've already put onto the page.

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  3. The argument goes that Shakespeare got his hands on the Hamlet story twice. His earlier version has disappeared, he wrote a second version, and we have now the editors' amalgamation of the various quartos and the folio versions -- the originally acted version is buried somewhere within the quartos and folio.

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    1. Yeah, I've read that, and that Thomas Kyd wrote a previous version that brought the ghost into it and which Shakespeare used as the basis for his version(s). In 1589 or whenever, all of London was going around saying, "Hamlet, revenge!" Have you read the Belleforest version, that predates Kyd and Shakespeare? Awful stuff. Truly bad. The earliest version, in Saxo's Danish History is pretty good. Amleth is a real cunning bastard.

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    2. Very nice. Congratulations. (I haven't read many alternative Hamlets, but Henry Treece's Green Man is the one I like, out of that small sampling.)

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    3. Thanks. It's not a great novel, but my ego appreciates the attention.

      I'm more interested in alternative Lears or Macbeths, truth to tell. I don't know your Green Man, but perhaps when I recover from my Hamlet-weariness, I'll look it up.

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    4. This is Kirkus Review's original 1966 review of The Green Man: "Hamlet's revenge was a tale 400 years old when Shakespeare revamped it in Elizabethan tragic verse. Since it is to many the greatest play ever written, a novel based upon the original source material must necessarily seem wildly heretical when it verges from Shakespeare and Treece is written just this kind. All the familiar elements are here, the murder of the king, the marriage of the queen to the murderer, Hamlet's return from abroad, his madness, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and the bloody fifth act. But to all these elements Treece has added giant passions, fiery incidents of demented intensity, sexual acts as from the thews of Thor Thunderbearer and Beowulf. This is our old friend who appears here more callow and grasping, and he kills Amleth in the last chapter. This all takes place in the sixth century. In Britain, Amleth meets King Arthur, who is then Duke. Ophelia is Hamlet's illegitimate half-sister, whom he marries. Queen Gertrude is burnt to death and eaten by swine. And almost no reader will take Treece seriously after he describes the sexual climaxes of Ophelia and Queen Gertrude in a lesbian embrace. But then he has followed Saxus Grammaticus quite closely, the original 12th century source."

      Hahaha! Madness! Who wrote that review? The book sounds like the work of a lunatic. I wonder if the library has it.

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    5. Pitch black comedy. Pitch, pitch black. Confused people committing rampant and legendary atrocities in a sea of filth. Out of print, but if you can find it then it's wonderful. (And I am being tempted toward Lucky Per.) Treece was born just before the start of the First World War and you could draw parallels between the stripping-away of grandeur from the image of combat in to 1910s, and the way he takes the Ancient World in his adult books and pares it down to mud and wreckage. He's good at mud. Good schoolteacher too, according to eyewitnesses.

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  4. Congratulations, Mr. Bailey. Very nice indeed to be required reading. And yay, a print version. I will be sure to look for it.

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    1. Ta awfully I'm sure. I hope the class goes well and Dr Burstein is moved to repeat it in future.

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  5. This is very cool indeed! I would give a lot to go sit in that classroom during the time your book is discussed!

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    1. I wouldn't want to be within 500 miles of that classroom.

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  6. You have a lot going on, Scott! Having the book discussed in the classroom sounds wonderful. I think you should visit the class after they're done reading it. Good luck with the agents and the rebirth of your book!

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    1. See my above comment about the author not having any business discussing his book with the readers. I am pleased about the rebirth of the book, though. I am ambivalent about the agent thing.

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  7. Excellent! I visited two classes that had read "Thaliad" and "A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage" last year, and we talked about all sorts of things, but we never talked about what the books "meant." I don't like that either. (Just go have the experience of the book.) The teacher was a writer also, so didn't expect it.

    And good luck with the harassing of agents.

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    1. Thanks for the luck!

      I did some readings for The Astrologer last year, and they were fun. Nobody had read the book yet, so "meaning" was off the table, which I liked. Lots of good discussion otherwise, about otherthings. I did a reading (of unpublished material) for a graduate-level class at the medical school, the subject being writing about points of view other than your own. That was an interesting hour. The questions from the students all came down to race and gender. I kept going back to awareness of humanity and the depth of common experience.

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  8. didn't see that it's a sideways version of "Hamlet." ha ha ha ha! No, really? Sorry, no need to respond to this. Ha ha ha ha! Never mind. It would still be a good book. It would be a good book if the reader didn't know that Denmark was a real place.

    Good news about the book being available again.

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    1. My favorite publisher rejection of the book was "It clever and the author is in control of his material, but I’m not sure how the novel should be published to appeal to an audience I’m not sure I could identify. I admire the craft but I’m not the right publisher for it." That audience I'm not sure I could identify is the bane of my existence as an author, darn it. My second favorite rejection came from the editor who said the book was too much like "Hamlet" and not enough like "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." Thanks for "a good book." I'm glad it will be available again very soon. I am waiting for a print proof, apparently.

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  9. An acquaintance of mine (Victor Gischler) kept a bulletin board filled with rejection letters. He eventually "found his audience." Now the bulletin board is a museum piece in his office. As for finding an audience and publisher, so did Stephen King (not an acquaintance) after numerous rejections. As for myself, I've never been brave enough to become a writer. I am terrified of rejection. The trajectory of my early adolescent crushes taught me early that any form of rejection would crush me. So, best of luck to you and all writers.

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    1. After a while, it no longer crushes (rejection for the writing, that is; rejection of our personalities might always sting; I am very shy so I don't really know). Maybe that thick skin or acquired indifference is not a good thing. I am compelled to write, though. I don't know if I am compelled to publish. I'm giving it a try right now, that's all I can say.

      Also Stephen King owes me $5. Chicago. O'Hare. Long story.

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  10. Trading airport stories: Broderick Crawford (already ancient and then thoroughly drunk) and I shared drinks at LAX in 60s. The porter wheeled him out of the bar in a golfcart. I went to my flight. I'm alive. He is not. End of story.

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