Richard D’Oyly Carte, the Sol Hurok of Late Victorian Britain, had a brilliant idea to promote his production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience in North America. The operetta, wildly successful on the London stage, was a spoof of the aesthetic movement in The Arts, which was a rage in British intellectual circles in the 1870s and early 1880s. Simply put, this movement placed aesthetic values above moral and social themes in literature and the fine arts. “Art for Art’s Sake” was the rallying call of the aesthetes who prioritized beauty over pragmatism.
There was no better embodiment of aestheticism in Britain, both in intellectuality and personality, than Oscar Wilde, the transplanted Dubliner who was dazzling London with his wit and his tongue lashings of society and its institutions. D’Oyly Carte decided to underwrite a lecture trip for Wilde to North America to stimulate interest in aestheticism there before Patience was introduced to the stages of the continent.
And indeed, Wilde’s lecture tour was highly successful. Large audiences packed theaters and halls in the hundreds and sometimes thousands to hear the young Irishman (28 years old) speak in his unfettered and unique manner. Wherever he spoke, controversy followed. Wilde in Chicago was a perfect example of this.
On February 13, 1882, Wilde, in his speech before 2,000 people assembled at the Central Music-Hall, located at Randolph and State and the first important building designed by Dankmar Adler, remarked that the Chicago Water-Works Tower is “a castellated monstrosity with pepper-boxes stuck all over it.” Then, in an interview with the Tribune the next day, the reporter queried him “are you aware that you wounded the pride of our best citizens by referring slightingly to our water-tower?
Wilde retorted with “I can’t help that. It’s really too absurd. If you build a water-tower, why don’t you build it for water and make a simple structure of it, instead of building it like a castle, where one expects to see mailed knights peering out of every part. It seems a shame to me that the citizens of Chicago have spent so much money on buildings with such an unsatisfactory result from an architectural point of view. Your city looks positively dreary to me.”
Richard Cahan, the co-author of Un-American: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War Two will be speaking at Emanuel Congregation, 5959 N. Sheridan Road on Wednesday evening, December 5, at 7:00 pm. This is a free community event and open to the public.
As the authors state “in the spring of 1942, the United States rounded up 109,000 residents of Japanese ancestry living along the West Coast and sent them to detention centers for the duration of the Second World War. Amazingly, the government hired famed photographers Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others to document the expulsion—–from assembling Japanese Americans at racetracks to confining them in ten camps spread across the country. Their photographs give an emotional and unflinching portrait of a nation concerned more about security than human rights. These photographs are more important now than ever.”
Please rsvp for the event to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a small parking lot with free parking adjacent to the synagogue. Paid parking is available at the Malibu just north of the synagogue.
Rosellen Brown’s new novel, The Lake on Fire, superbly depicts the class and cultural tensions that were pervasive in Chicago just before, during and slightly after the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Worker discontent in the city was still simmering in the aftermath of the deadly clashes of the Battle of the Viaduct in 1877 and the Haymarket Affair of 1886. Economic conditions and labor strife were worsening because of the Panic of 1893, which soon led to a depression.
Ms. Brown embodies these tensions magnificently in the characters of Chaya-Libbe Shaderowsky and her younger brother Asher, and Gregory Stillman and his brother Ned. Chaya and Asher were Jews whose poor family had left Eastern Europe for a better life in America. Gregory and Ned were born with “a silver spoon in their mouths” and were part of Chicago’s economic and cultural elite. Yet the author brilliantly weaves a narrative spiced with romance, idealism, greed and violence where these four characters’ lives are inextricably connected with each other.
The teeming Maxwell Street Market surrounded by tenements and sweat shops come alive in this book. Asher’s gutsy escapades on the Midway during the Fair keep the reader amazed and surprised. The inclusion of historical personages in the story, especially Jane Addams, is truly a delight. The Lake on Fire is definitely a must read for any lover of Chicago historical fiction.
2019 CLIFF DWELLERS BOOK CLUB READING LIST
January 26-The Lake on Fire-Rosellen Brown (the author will be joining us)
February 23-Redlined-Linda Gartz (the author will be joining us)
March 23-Mr. Dooley’s Chicago-Barbara Schaaf
April 27-Native Son-Richard Wright
May 25-Chicago-David Mamet
June 22-Time for Frankie Coolin-Bill Granger
July 27- The Pit-Frank Norris
August 24-Compulsion-Meyer Levin
September 28-Jennie Gerhardt –Theodore Dreiser
October 26-Chicago Renaissance- Liesl Olson (the author will be joining us)
November 23-The Old-Time Saloon-George Ade (get the edition with an introduction and notes by Bill Savage)
Cliff Dwellers and non-Cliff Dwellers are all welcome at our Chicago-themed book club. We meet at 11:00 am on the fourth Saturday of the month (except December) at the Cliff Dwellers, 200 S. Michigan, 22nd Floor. There is no cost to attend. The moderator for the book club is Richard Reeder, who can be contacted at email@example.com
I must admit that I was surprised this past Tuesday when I learned that Anna Burns won the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her novel “Milkman.” Before you select it as a choice for your book clubs, please be advised that it is a difficult read. I struggled mightily getting into the flow of the narrative, finally becoming deeply engaged in the story about halfway through the book.
“Milkman” is the tale of a young woman embroiled in the intrigues of Belfast in The Troubles of the 1970s. It is told compellingly in her voice in a Kafkaesque narrative. Obscurity of place and name is intentional. The setting of the book, unmentioned Belfast, is a dark and confining place, a city of intrigue and perpetual conflict, where neutrality in the struggle is not an option for its residents.
Anna Burns becomes the first author from Northern Ireland to win the coveted Booker. “Milkman” will not be available in the States until December 11th.
I am urging all my literary friends in Chicago to attend a fun event on the evening of September 15 to support the good works of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. The event will be at the penthouse party room at 1700 E. 56th Street with a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline. The main activities for this fundraising event will be Trivia Contest (mostly literary stuff) and a Silent Auction. It will also be an evening of good food and drink, music, and conversation with your fellow literary enthusiasts. More information on the program and how to register for the event can be found on chicagoliteraryhof.org
I believe that the American movie viewing audience with a literary bent will surely enjoy The Wife. The film, based on the Meg Wolitzer novel of the same name, focuses on the lives of Joe Castleman, the esteemed American author who has been selected as the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, his wife Joan, and their son David. The year is 1992, with flashbacks going back to the 1950s, when Jane is Joe’s student in a literature class at Smith College, and later into the 1960s when Joan becomes Joe’s second wife and the supportive partner in his blossoming writing career. Meanwhile the grown-up David has also chosen to write and is trying desperately to gain his father’s respect and recognition for his work.
Glenn Close is superb in the role of the older Jane. She is hiding secrets and suppressing emotions, and this is revealed by viewing the subtle changes of her face and reading her body language. One can see the strong influence of Ingmar Bergman on Swedish director Bjorn Runge’s direction of her complex and unpredictable character.
On the other hand, I found Joe, whose older embodiment is played by Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce, and whose younger one is played by Harry Lloyd, as well as the adult son Max, played by British-Irish actor Max Irons (Jeremy’s son), to be both predictable and stereotypical in their behavior. Joe, who comes across as an amalgam of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, is the poor Brooklyn Jew hungering and hustling for fame and fortune in the literary world. David’s incessant brooding over his father’s seemingly negative opinion of his writing gets a bit tiresome at times.
Yet the story has a strong and compelling narrative and a powerful ending that delivers quite an emotional punch to the gut. The pageantry and the backstage antics of the Nobel Prize ceremony were fun to watch. Christian Slater is effective in his role as Nathaniel, the journalist who is Joe’s unctuous would-be biographer traveling to Stockholm to cover the ceremony and dig up dirt on the family. Glenn Close gives one of the best performances of her long film career and is certainly deserving of an Oscar nomination. For that alone, this movie should be seen.