Archive | January, 2012

Last Words, First Sentence

Never say you know the last words about any human heart.                                                             -Henry James, Louisa Pallant, 1888 Off Next Week: Back to blogging in February with The Cherry Orchard.


Friday Fun: Trailer Talk

There’s no enticement quite like an artfully made movie trailer, and it doesn’t spoil the fun to get a better idea of how the pieces come together – and increasingly fly apart. Film Historian Wheeler Winston Dixon helps NPR’s Monkey See put some of the classiest recent trailers in context: “The shots are shorter and […]


The Age of Magic

If you think of Houdini as a man of art, you also have to think of him as a man of science. As most artists in the past, he is always working at the edge of technological development…That’s why I think when you see interesting magic today, you have to think about films, imagination. That’s […]


An Unusual Rivalry

During their lifetimes, Henry James and his older brother William enjoyed great affection for one another, fame in their own realms and a healthy rivalry – one that appears to have followed them into the cultural afterlife. In Author, Author, David Lodge muses that, if he the opportunity to speak with James now, he would […]

Strawberry Hill

Origins: Serendipity

From More Intelligent Life, the origins of the word ‘serendipity’: The word that best describes this subtle blend of chance and agency is “serendipity”. It was coined by Horace Walpole, man of letters and aristocratic dilettante. Writing to a friend in 1754, Walpole explained an unexpected discovery he had just made by reference to a […]


Master and Protégé

As the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton’s birth arrives tomorrow, we remember her as an author popular in her own age and ours; an interior and landscape designer; an “haute bourgeoisie” New Yorker; after 1911, an American expatriate in France; a self-described “rabid” supporter of French imperialism; and, since September 2010, at least, as a […]


1903: R.I.P. J. Elfreth Watkins, Prophet

Two years prior to his death in 1903, Smithsonian transportation curator John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. imagined “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” in an article for the Ladies Home Journal. He successfully predicted the mass use of central air conditioning and heating (“Central plants will supply this cool air and heat to houses […]

Oscar Wilde's Tomb

The Importance of Being Squeaky Clean

Famously Wilde, the gay writer best known for witty plays like The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, as well as the fittingly age-defying novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray died in 1900. While Oscar Wilde’s life and work, then, falls outside the purview of the 20th Century Unlimited, his influence and considerable […]