Kenneth Salzmann of Reader's Favorite has just given one of the trilogy of essays collections, that I published in 2017, a very generous review, which I thought I'd reproduce in full below. I think I always enjoy reviews or feedback from people I don't know more than from friends and family. There are no vested interests or the distortions that come from someone knowing the writer. The support of friends is essential for one's spirit though don't get me wrong but in a way when they dislike something or are critical negatively its easier to accept! Anyway...
George Orwell, Two Guinea Pigs, A Cat and A Goat and other essays by Tim Dalgleish, reviewed by Kenneth Salzmann
As the title more than hints at, Tim Dalgleish’s ‘Orwell, Two Guinea Pigs, a Cat and a Goat and Other Essays’ is an eclectic and wide-ranging collection of writings by the British playwright-poet-essayist-editor and actor. In the more than two dozen pieces comprising the book, Dalgleish tackles such varied topics as the famous anthropological Piltdown Man hoax, the juncture of art and philosophy in American movies, the history of the Welsh language, traces of a near-vanished kingdom, Mahatma Gandhi, Tom Paine, Oscar Wilde, George Orwell, and the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, just for starters. In brief introductory remarks that precede each essay, Dalgleish shares with the reader something of the piece’s history (some are previously published magazine articles, some book reviews, some posts from a blog he maintains).
In my opinion, Dalgleish is a thorough researcher, an original thinker, and an erudite writer whose essays can be counted on to offer readers fresh facts or unexpected linkages on every page. The breadth and depth of the works make for a potpourri that can be enjoyed in short bursts as much as a cover-to-cover reading. On the one hand, this is a book that invites the reader to dive in at any point, whenever a title piques his or her interest. On the other hand, though, the stitching together of so many different pieces sometimes results in essays that repeat information from previous entries. This happens, for example, in some of the several essays devoted to George Orwell, a “literary hero” of Dalgleish’s. However, overall, I found this collection is consistently engaging and instructive and likely to capture many readers’ interest.
I was recently contacted by an academic, Dr Samantha Mitschke, who specialises in British and American theatre about the Holocaust, about an old play of mine ‘The Last Days of Adam’. She is planning to use it at a conference ‘Lessons and Legacies’ at Washington University in St Louis (1st - 4th November) along with two other works. A workshop is planned entitled "Holocaust Theatre and the Quest for Empathy," and the participants will have three case studies: The Diary of Anne Frank, Primo by Antony Sher, and my play, which I published in 2015. ‘The workshop involves looking at how writers have adapted Holocaust diaries and memoirs for the stage, and the various factors of empathy involved, including an overview of empathy theory, notions of empathic factors, and so on.’ says Samantha and has asked me for my memories of the process. Fortunately, a few of those memories are already in print, in a collection of essays I published last year, called ‘Orwell, Two Guinea Pigs, A Cat and A Goat’. In that collection is a post-script, to an essay about the Judenrat leader Jacob Gens, who ran the Vilna Ghetto. The post-script talks about my experience with ‘Voices of the Holocaust’, a theatre company I was heavily involved with for two years, and the off shoot of that experience, the writing of ‘The Last Days of Adam: The True Story of Adam Czerniakow’. I have to say, it’s rather an unexpected honour to be included as part of an academic conference in the States and alongside such illustrious texts. Anne Frank’s is probably the most famous diary of the Holocaust and Anthony Sher is an actor I’ve admired since I first saw him in a blistering TV adaptation of Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’. I had ‘True Story’ as part of the title of my play because I very much tried to make the play a ‘document’ which condensed and closely ‘translated’ Czerniakow’s own diary onto the stage. It will, therefore, be interesting to hear back from Samantha about how the participants to the workshop respond and interpret my interpretation of events. The play itself had its earliest origins in another play I help write called ‘Fragile Fire’. ‘Fragile Fire’ was a play written and devised by ‘Voices’ a small touring theatre company. ‘Fire’ was largely concerned with Mordechai ‘Angel’ Anielewicz and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the character I played was Adam Czerniakow. Czerniakow died halfway through ‘Fire’, which in fact was largely a physical theatre piece perhaps less concerned with a text ‘heavy’ version of events as the dramatic, visceral portrayal of events. Perhaps the last quarter of the play, was a set piece of flying bodies, jumping and diving off a spinning scaffolding. The scaffolding was on wheels, and I was the pivot with the fate of four or five other actors, literally in my hands, with the colossal frame occasionally heading rather closer to the edge, of the variously sized stages we performed on than I necessarily felt comfortable with! Anyway, from the research and creation of that character and that play, I decided the story of Czerniakow himself was worth telling. Part of the reason being related to, I think, Yehuda Bauer’s notion of ‘Perpetrator, bystander, victim’. This trilogy of types, involved in the events of the Holocaust, was one we used in our workshops and teaching sessions pre- or post the show. And in a sense, Czerniakow seemed to fit all three ‘types’. The Judenrat of the Ghettoes, created by the Nazi’s, were essentially Jewish councils who were given the job of running matters within the Ghetto. Leaders of the Judenrat came in a variety of types, Gens, for instance, was a much harder and harsher character than Czerniakow, and perhaps due to that, it might be said he was much closer to being a ‘Perpetrator’ than a victim. Czerniakow was a subtler, gentler man and certainly conceived his task as one of trying to ameliorate the suffering of the Jewish community in the Ghetto. In the end, he certainly realised that he had been duped or played the fool by the Nazi’s who really had never really intended to ‘live and let live’ when it came to the Jews. The Ghettoes were not an apartheid, they were a step, a part of a process, toward the Holocaust. How clearly the pathway to genocide was laid out is a matter of debate, but certainly, the Nazi’s generally knew that the Judenrat and its people were mere instruments to be discarded when the time came. Like many Jews and others at the time, Czerniakow thought eventually things would ‘blow over’, there had been ghettoes and pogroms before, the majority would survive it was a case of protecting as many as possible for as long as possible, until a brighter day. Tragically it was a very dark night he was walking into. Eventually, he took his own life. The ways in which he combined the three ‘types’ of Bauer’s are not so much investigated in the play as merely portrayed. The ‘True Story’ is really ‘this is how he felt, this is what he did’. It is less didactic and more open-ended, in a sense, than it could have been, at least, that was the intention. The participants of the conference may well have differing perspectives, but if the play stirs any of the debates in any way it will have served its purpose.
I've just completed the audiobook biography of Edward Upward by Peter Stansky. It was a real pleasure to work on and especially to have some correspondence with its author. I read one of Peter's other biographies three decades back so it felt rather special to produce this audio book. I never would have imagined back then, as a callow youth, that I would not only be receiving signed copies of this author's books in the post but also have the privilege of working to produce an audio version of one. The audio book is available as usual on Audible.com and a description of the book is below: The novelist and short story writer Edward Upward (1903-2009) is famous for being the unknown member of the W. H. Auden circle, though he was revered by his peers - Auden, Day Lewis, Isherwood, and Spender - for his intellect, high literary gifts, and unswerving political commitment. His lifelong friendship with Christopher Isherwood was forged at school and university, with each regarding the other as the first reader of his work. At Cambridge they invented the bizarre village of Mortmere, which with its combination of reality and fantasy had an important role in shaping the dominant British literary culture of the 1930s.
Going Viral I’m busy at work on my latest audio book which is the life of Edward Upward by Peter Stansky. Upward was ‘the fourth man’ in the literary grouping of WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender. He is in the literary shadows, but in the 1930s he was a massive influence on all the writers above and the decade itself. He tends to be a somewhat overlooked now, but Stansky’s biography goes some way to restoring his reputation a little. His personality and writings were split between ‘Art and Life’ (the subtitle of the biography) that is, between his writing and his political life. Like George Orwell, he felt that given the politics of his era he had to be political though he never much enjoyed this activity. For his generation being political meant joining the Communist Party. However, he was always conflicted because his imaginative, artistic self was drawn to writing a brand of surrealism or fantasy. With Christopher Isherwood, his life-long friend, he created ‘The Mortmere Stories’ which is what (along with his political and autobiographical trilogy The Spiral Ascent’) he is now most remembered for. Stansky wrote a biography of Orwell years ago, which I read and very much enjoyed, so it was rather a thrill to be given the job of transferring this new biography, from the Enitharmon Press, into an audiobook. In this era of the rise of the right in Europe and America, it’s good to be reminded of the values of the left and how essential the notion of fraternity, equality and community is over the I-generation’s focus on ‘me’ and ‘my rights’. Rights, in a sense, do need to be earned or at a minimum appreciated not as God-given, but as a human creation and one that needs to be fought for and then maintained. People have, and do, die to preserve these central values of decency to others, economic equality and justice. Mobile phones and Facebook are a supplement to society, but true communion is made between human beings speaking and debating face to face. It is much harder to insult someone face to face, for various reasons: you can see the hurt you inflict, your own morality can be questioned because it’s not protected by anonymity, the reactions of your community can temper your disregard for others. etc. Of course, face to face contact can bring conflict too; it’s just that digital communication is more susceptible to certain abuses and can go much wider, much quicker. There’s a small clue in the phrase ‘going viral’, a few viruses do bring benefits, but most do not. As is becoming recognized, we need to be wary of technology dictating human actions rather than the reverse. I heard one teenager, on Radio Four recently, who banned her friends using their mobile phones whilst they were visiting her. It is a classic scenario these days to see a group of friends together, no-one is talking, and everyone is on their mobile! There are more important issues, but our technological attributes are symptoms of greater ills.
Two Audio books out this week, both written by Max Ehrmann and narrated by myself. ‘Lifting the Veil’ originally appeared in the Harvard Graduates Magazine in 1927, and was this American writer’s longest prose inquiry into the nature of existence. He was a spiritual man, a poet and playwright, who never lost his love for nature, the night sky and long walks. His poetry always brings us back to the magnificence and beauty below the surface or behind the veil. In the title essay of this collection which I put together earlier this year, Ehrmann rejects the metaphysical tomes of Kant and Schopenhauer and returns to what he conceives as the more fundamental experience which accepts science straightforwardly but feels there is more to existence. His view is similar to that of Emerson and Thoreau full of pragmatism but with a vein of what is almost paganism or pantheism. Science engages the intellect, nature inflames the emotions, burns at the edges of the veil of Maya. The book also includes other essays by Ehrmann and biographical sketches of him by literary critics and people in his circle. ‘Worldly Wisdom Revisited: The Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach’ is his version, in verse, of the book of Ecclesiastes from the Christian Bible. He lost his Christianity early but maintained a respect for some of the wisdom Jesus. I wrote a long introduction to the book and it’s part of a long term plan to write a biography of this author. If you want a taste of his work take a look at ‘Desidarata’ his most famous poem which is all about taking life calmly and appreciating what you have and what there is out there if you have the eyes to see.
I texted the thought below to a friend of mine recently who’d said he sometimes found poetry impenetrable. It’s half-way to being a tweet but as I don’t tweet I thought I’d post it here. It was off the cuff but I liked it so I’m preserving it perhaps to be worked on later. ‘Poetry is the broadest class of writing, has the most forms and is the most individual and personal, along with being the most formal and artificial too. Prose fiction generally is sequential and narrative driven even when its experimental it tends to have a contextual narrative, simply put it tells a story, poetry is feelings attached to words. So you are like most readers (myself included) more inclined to find prose, fact and fiction, easier than poetry which is often both fact and fiction at the same time!’ I composed a bit of doggerel for my friend on the day of the recent royal wedding too, as I juggled feeding my two girls at the leisure centre after swimming. He said as he’d requested them (he was at work and wanted some entertainment, and read them out to his colleagues as I sent them) they were commissions. So as they are commissioned work I thought I’d preserve them too! I think I’ll call them my ‘Anti-royal Dogs’: First Dog: ‘Markle and His Majesty are getting wed, That’s what the papers and tv endlessly said, I missed it, dreaming they’d gone forever, And of their kind I’d have to hear again, never!’
The office crowd gave a ‘mixed response’ and asked for something that rhymed with ‘parasite’ Second Dog: ‘The Royals are the greatest parasite, Sucking our blood out morning ‘til night, Wish I could squash them flat, I’d be happy for the papers to report that!’
There was a short interval whilst I took both my girls to the loo, then Third Dog: ‘If you are a parasite given wings of old Just remember who gave you gold, One day again instead of a wedding ring, We’ll do that old Cromwell thing, Take those wings and bind them tight, Make who you call ‘insects’ feel the might You have had all your life, Not god given but taken with the knife And sword of ages past, May your blood-sucking reign not last!’
Sure they don’t quite scan but I was juggling children whilst composing and texting which was good for the parental mind!
The audiobook of 'Lifting the Veil' is complete and coming out in the next couple of weeks which I'm happy about and as I mentioned in the last blog 'Worldly Wisdom Revisted' a book by and about Max Ehrmann which I've edited is close to coming out too. I'm pleased with the introduction which is 15 or so pages and being worked over by Sarah my wife right now. The book is completed really I'm just doing some final adjustments, I changed the size formatt which slowed things down a little but this is all part of a master plan to edit a whole raft of books on Ehrmann before I publish a biography. The biography will take a few years I expect but all the books inbetween I'm going to form part of a fascinating and enjoyable journey I think. The cover blurb for Worldly is as follows: This is a fully revised version of Max Ehrmann’s 1934 classic ‘Worldly Wisdom’. Ehrmann’s famous poem ’Desiderata’ has delighted the world for many years and is one of the most popularly searched poems on the internet. Like ‘Desiderata’ this new book is full of gentle soulful advice on how to lead one’s life. A detailed introductory essay, by Tim Dalgleish, investigates Ehrmann’s relationships with Theodore Dreiser, Eugene Debs and others, and is full of interesting biographical facts about the author himself, all of which helps us ‘revisit’ this spiritual classic with fresh eyes.
My latest book which I've edited and written an introduction to is 'Lifting the Veil: Beloved Dead, Biography and other appreciations' is now available on Amazon. This is a collection of writings by and about Max Ehrmann an American poet who I'm writing a biography of at present. He is famous for his poem 'Desiderata' which is included in this volume but the title essay is a spiritual investigation into the nature of reality! Biography is a new territory for me and so far I'm finding it fascinating. I'm planning a series of books that include material by Ehrmann which will be edited and introduced by me. The cover of the next book, which will follow hot on the heels of Lifting the Veil, is below!
Because I’ve been working on several projects connected to Max Ehrmann, I have found very little time to write a blog recently. So, in lieu of a piece written especially for the Farthingstone Chronicles, I’ve attached below, a part of the introduction to my new book, Lifting the Veil, Beloved Dead and other appreciations. This is a collection of writings on and by Max Ehrmann, an American poet known mostly for his poem Desiderata. The book will be out in the next week or two: In researching the materials for this book, I decided to look through the archives of that venerable literary publication The New York Review of Books. I assumed, there would be a few articles on this author, who in his time was the friend, acquaintance or correspondent of the likes of Nobel Laureate Sinclair Lewis, the novelist Jack London, Theodore Dreiser (author of the classic An American Tragedy), Eugene V. Debs (the union leader and founder of the Industrial Workers of the World or ‘Wobblies’), Havelock Ellis (the physician and social reformer who put sexuality on the map in the nineteen-thirties), Birth Control campaigner, Margaret Sanger, the radical editor and political activist, Max Eastman, Booth Tarkington, author of The Magnificent Ambersons and many other notable figures. However, Ehrmann’s stock has fallen so low in the literary world since his death in 1945, that to my surprise I could find nothing on him in The New York Review of Books (which was founded in 1963). This apparent amnesia is curious but has happened before with Ehrmann. One Sunday during Lent in 1956, Reverend Frederick W. Kates, the rector of Old St Paul’s in Baltimore, placed on the pews, as was his habit, a poem. The poem, mimeographed onto sheets with the parish letterhead, was Desiderata. Perhaps because it was only a little over a decade since Ehrmann’s death and the rector assumed his congregation was familiar with the text, or simply because he relayed it in his sermon, either way, Reverend Kates failed to include the name of the poem’s author on the handout itself. The letterhead simply read ‘Old St. Paul’s Church, A.D., 1692’. An alternative version of the story has it that Ehrmann’s name was omitted by a member of the congregation when passing it onto friends. Either way, copies of the poem slowly began to leach into the local community and eventually into the consciousness of the burgeoning youth movement, nascent, but growing across America at that time. Hippies, Flower Power and the ‘swinging’ sixties, saw the poem reproduced on posters and in underground magazines, misattributed, however, with the urban myth, ‘Anonymous, written in 1692, found on a plaque on the wall of Old St. Paul’s Church’ and so on. Not until 1965, with the death of Adlai Stevenson, the former Democratic presidential candidate and US Ambassador to the United Nations, did the issue of authorship come to national prominence. Stevenson died in London, on July 14th, during a stop-over back from Switzerland. Soon after, a column by Betty Beale appeared in the Washington News and was syndicated nationally. In her column, she was objecting to a cover story in Time magazine, which had claimed that Stevenson was a lonely and gloomy figure. This Beale rejected, reporting that his close friends said otherwise. In support of her argument, she wrote, ‘When he took off for Geneva [shortly before his death] he left behind on the bedside table in his New York apartment a printed page that he had marked. Perhaps it was intended for a commencement address [others have said he intended to use it in his Christmas cards that year]. He did not write it but that he chose it and saved it for his attention upon his return is indicative of his own thought. It was entitled Desiderata, and it was originally found in Old St. Paul’s church, Baltimore, dated 1692.’ In her next column Beale corrected the error and named Ehrmann as the poem’s author but perhaps unsurprisingly, in some quarters, the ‘Anonymous’ authorship of this piece of supposed 17th Century Americana continued being promulgated. Indeed, 1968 saw Star Treks’ Leonard Nimoy release an LP with his rendition of the poem included but re-titled Spock’s Thoughts. Not to be outdone, in 1970, Bonanza’s Lorne Greene read it on the Johnny Cash Show, as did Joan Crawford, in the same year, on David Frost’s TV show. Then in 1971, Les Crane, a former talk show host, recorded the poem. Crane was accompanied by a musical arrangement from Fred Werner which included a gospel choir and harpsichord. This reached number 8 on the Billboard charts and went on to win a Grammy for Spoken Word Recording in 1972. In 1978 Richard Burton recorded it as part of a ‘personal anthology’ entitled The Hound of Heaven. Max Ehrmann’s name didn’t appear on any of these TV shows or recordings, and the verse was usually misattributed. A typically ironic example of attribution was the credit given on the Les Crane LP, which read, ‘Produced by Fred Werner and Les Crane for Old St. Paul Productions.’ In the age of the internet, Ehrmann is now generally credited with authorship of the poem, but he still remains a shadowy figure on the literary stage. Aside from Desiderata most of his work remains unknown. ‘Lifting the Veil’ is perhaps one of his most obscure pieces, but deserves to be better known, as it reveals much about the philosophy or weltanschauung of the man behind Desiderata.