Literature and Theatre

Alexander Lee

In March 1506, Machiavelli was in the Casentino when he received a letter from Agostino Vespucci in Florence. A few weeks earlier, Machiavelli had arranged for his Decennale primo – a verse history of Florence between 1494 and 1504 – to be printed by Bartolomeo de’ Libri, with Vespucci bearing the costs. It was the first of his works in print and had already met with some success. Much to Vespucci’s alarm, however, a rival printer, Andrea Ghirlandi da Pistoia, was now selling a pirated version, festooned with mistakes. This article explores how Vespucci tried to protect Machiavelli’s interests and his own investment. It shows how Vespucci successfully circumvented the lack of copyright protection by casting the pirated version as a form of defamation and exploiting both secular and ecclesiastical authorities. In doing so, it casts fresh light on the legal and commercial challenges of printing in sixteenth-century Florence.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Molly Lewis

Rylands MS French 5 is a thirteenth-century Bible picture book consisting of a single pictorial cycle depicting scenes from the Old Testament. The manuscript is remarkable for the predominance of its imagery and the erasures that selectively mar its otherwise unspoiled folios. The sites of these erasures can be categorised as evil, obscene, and divine subjects. Examining each in turn, I hope to demonstrate the importance of both the Bible picture book tradition and manuscript erasure for considerations of later medieval visuality. Where the Bible picture book encapsulates thirteenth-century confidence in the visual sense, the erasures signal the boundaries of this confidence, revealing a paradoxical mode of sight in which ocular passions merge and clash. In turn, these findings problematise attempts to theorise a homogenous thirteenth-century visuality, as different understandings of vision surfaced in the decades after the production of MS French 5 and played out in impassioned and contradictory ways on the manuscript page.

Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Nicholas Royle

Intro: Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ sonata, first movement. Exposition of the phenomenon of regret, elucidated via Tennyson’s ‘Tears, Idle Tears’ and conception of regret as ‘death-anxiety’. Reflections on environmental crisis focusing on a localised instance: the establishment of a medical incinerator at Newhaven and the degradation of an adjacent ‘nature reserve’. How memory is not mere ‘preservation in amber’: the amber is alive and moving. Lecturer’s deferred realisation of what his father was doing in the Croydon Bookshop – looking for his mother (or at least books illustrated by her). Lola Onslow (born in Dublin in 1898) collaborated with Enid Blyton on several fairy tale books. The lecturer shows a pencil sketch of a Devon village in August 1945. Link to atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a few days previously. Return to concept of regret via Yeats’s ‘The Tower’ (1928), a poem which includes what, for Samuel Beckett, is one of Yeats’s most beautiful phrases (‘but the clouds’). The lecturer proposes that an alternative phrase that Yeats’s poem offers is just as remarkable (‘or a bird’s sleepy cry’). Outro: the song of a nightingale (recorded in Northamptonshire in 2008).

in David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine
Abstract only
Nicholas Royle
in David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine
Nicholas Royle

This lecture begins by recounting a dream of having dinner with Gerald Doherty and Randall Stevenson one ‘white night’ in Helsinki, and the surreal intrusions of a measuring tape. Reflections on the richness of Doherty’s work (especially on ‘narrative desire’ and ‘the games narrators play’), and of Stevenson’s work (on modernist literature and time, with particular reference to Bergson). Discussion of the fabulous bargua snake in Blyton’s The River (Adventure Series). Play Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’. Lecturer reflects on his love of books, instilled in him by his father, and the importance for them both of the Croydon Bookshop, which was not in Croydon. Croydon lies equidistant between where the lecturer grew up and where Bowie and Blyton grew up. Exploration of Bowie’s neologistic use of ‘Croydon’ as a derogatory adjective (‘so fucking Croydon!’). Outro: Bowie’s ‘Quicksand’.

in David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine
Author:

This is a book about David Bowie as a songwriter, singer and thinker. It is also a study of Enid Blyton and her enduring power as a storyteller. Through the incongruous pairing of Bowie and Blyton, Royle confronts a series of critical questions: What is the point of universities? Why do music, art and literature matter? Where does listening (to stories or to music) get us? How are we to negotiate the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis and the ‘end times’? This is a sombre and reflective book based on the author’s forty-plus years of university teaching and research, but it also contains a good deal of comedy and laughter. As the critic Peter Boxall explains in the Afterword, Royle’s book ‘does not sit comfortably in any existing genre or form’. It combines passages about everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic with a series of lectures that include hearing and discussing Bowie songs, exploring the appeal of Blyton’s storytelling (especially the Famous Five books), talking about dreams and second-hand bookshops, revealing Blyton’s previously unrecorded love affair with the author’s grandmother, and reflecting on some previously unpublished photos of Bowie (also reproduced in the book). Alongside Blyton, there’s talk of other writers – from Aristophanes, Shakespeare and Keats to Spike Milligan, Ray Bradbury and Claire-Louise Bennett. Alongside Bowie, there’s discussion of a range of music – from Bach, Beethoven and Chopin to Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Charles Mingus.

Nicholas Royle

Intro: Bowie’s ‘Absolute Beginners’. Discussion of voice and mimicry. At least forty years late, the lecturer realises why his father was so good at mimicking an Irish accent: it was all about his mother. Historical situating of the golden age of children’s book illustration, with particular emphasis on Blyton and Onslow’s collaborations. The lecturer shows Lola’s painting of his father as an infant fairy. Elaboration of the concept and meaning of ‘fairy’, via the poetry of Keats and Yeats, and the English football terraces of the 1970s. The lecturer proposes that Bowie was the greatest fairy of the twentieth century. Coda: overview of the lecture series. Outro: Bowie’s ‘Drive-In Saturday’.

in David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine
Nicholas Royle
in David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine
Nicholas Royle

Introduction to the lecture series: why it’s called A Sense of the Ending; overview of the focus for the lectures – the music of David Bowie and the writings of Enid Blyton, especially the Famous Five books. Play and discuss Bowie’s ‘Memory of a Free Festival’ (1969). Exposition of the meaning of ‘sun machine’, especially as a term for thinking about the pleasures of novel-reading. Illustration by way of an example: Natsume Sōseki’s Sanshirō (1908). Outro: ‘Space Oddity’.

in David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine
Abstract only
Nicholas Royle

This section functions as an interlude. It details how, while the author was at work assembling his lectures, he received an unexpected email from Stephen Finer, the painter whose oil portrait of Bowie hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Finer offered the author permission to reproduce a number of Polaroid photographs of David Bowie, several of these previously unpublished, taken by Finer in 1995. ‘Picture Break’ reflects on the author’s telephone discussions with the painter, and on the photos (which accompany the text).

in David Bowie, Enid Blyton and the sun machine