Four panelists, a lively discussion, and a surprise guest for Hayes’s “My Face for the World to See”!

Our photographer (and loyal Another Look aficionado) David Schwartz preserves a terrific night on October 30 with four panelists for Alfred Hayes’s My Face for the World to See. We had another surprise guest that evening, the author’s daughter, Josephine Hayes Dean, flew out to join us for the evening. David took a photo of that, too. From left to right above: Another Look director Robert Harrison; the author’s daughter, Josephine Dean; novelist Terry Gamble; National Medal of Arts winner Tobias Wolff, and film critic David Thomson.

If you missed the stellar event, you can join us after-the-fact with the podcast here.

Panelists in discussion below:




Do the French take their literature seriously? The furor over “La Princesse de Clèves”!

Another Look turned its attention to an earlier century on May 1, with Madame de LaFayette’s landmark 1678 novella, The Princesse de Clèves. Another Look Director Robert Pogue Harrison led the panel, joined by Chloe Edmondson, a Stanford PhD candidate studying French literary and cultural history, and very special guest, Yale Prof. Pierre Saint-Amand, the author of The Pursuit of Laziness: An Idle Interpretation of the Enlightenment. Mostly the participants spoke off-the-cuff, but Edmondson’s remarks were an excellent introduction to this short and compelling work (and Another Look aficionado David Schwartz provided some photographic mementos of the event, as always):

“Many of you may be familiar with French classics like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary or Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, yet you may not have ever heard of Madame de Lafayette, not to mention the book she wrote in 1678. To the French though, it is as much of a national treasure and classic, as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The book in fact had a huge resurgence of popularity in 2009 after President Sarkozy publicly disparaged the book.

He said, “Non”!

He was talking about the entrance exam for public sector workers and how it included questions about Lafayette’s work. He suggested it would be absurd to ask a metro ticket clerk what he or she thought about the Princesse de Clèves, that it was useless that candidates must have a knowledge of the Princesse de Clèves.  He added, too, that he “suffered greatly by the princess” in school.

These comments triggered a full-blown scandal, and the French people took to defending the work as a pillar of their national and cultural heritage, a work they felt should be read and appreciated by everyone, not mocked as irrelevant. University strikes that year gave rise to marathon public readings throughout the country of La Princesse de Clèves as a form of protest. Publishers saw sales of the book double within a year. Even a book fair in Paris that year sold, in mere hours, more than 2,000 pins that said “I read The Princess of Cleves” and “This year, the Princess will vote!”

Edmondson also retraced the history of the book for the audience:  “Born 18 March 1634 to a family of minor but wealthy nobility, Marie-Madeleine Pioche de La Vergne, became a maid of honor to Queen Anne of Austria in 1651, which initiated her entrée into the world of high society. It is during this time that she first became a part of the literary world of 17th-century France, frequenting the salons of Madame de Rambouillet and Madame de Scudéry, as well as becoming friends with Madame de Sévigné.

But the people said, “Oui!”  Vive la France!

“She married François Motier, Comte de LaFayette in 1655, and with him had two sons. She lived with him in the countryside until her return to Paris in 1660, when she started her own literary salon, regularly receiving in her home some of the most important men of letters of her time, like the Duc de La Rochefoucauld who introduced her to the great playwright Racine. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she starts to write as well.

“In 1678, La Princesse de Clèves was published anonymously, though it is quickly attributed to Lafayette. At the time of its publication, it was the source of literary scandal. It was a question of genre – people weren’t sure how to categorize what seemed to be a unique text, combining elements of two of the most popular genres at the time – the romance and the historical novella.

“Romances were generally set in a time and place distant from the author’s, with implausible heroic plots and fantastical events, whereas novellas – short novels – were generally set in recent history, with historical characters behaving according to social conventions. La Princesse de Clèves, set in the court of Henri II in the mid-16th century would seem to favor realism, but readers believed that the characters did not conform to the ways that people “really” would behave, because of what seemed to be exceptionally strange behavior of the heroine, such as the Princess’ confession to her husband of her feelings for another man.

“Today, one of the big scholarly debates surrounding the book also has to do with genre – namely whether or not it really did mark the birth of the modern novel. Regardless, I think we can appreciate that it holds qualities that will become characteristic of the types of books we consider novels, works that give readers access to the inner thoughts and emotions of the main characters over an extended period of time.

“Indeed, if we look at the history of the work’s reception, what no one seems to contest, even in the 17th century, is that it captured – to quote her contemporary critic Jean-Baptiste Valincour – the expression of “what happens in the depths of our hearts,” the “expression” of things that all have experienced.”

 

A lively discussion for Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit!

Walter Tevis is best known for his three novels that were turned into major films: The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. But on January 29, Stanford took another look at his overlooked masterpiece, The Queen’s Gambit. The lively discussion was headed by Another Look’s founding director, the eminent author Tobias Wolff. He was joined by Robert Pogue Harrison, a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, and former Stanford fellow Inga Pierson. Some considered it our best event ever!

Tevis was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Sunset District. While his parents relocated to Kentucky, he spent a year in the Stanford Children’s Convalescent Home (which later became Stanford’s Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital). Hence, Another Look’s winter event will be a homecoming for the author, who died in 1984.

Photos below by Another Look aficionado David Schwartz.

Tonight! Another Look features Walter Tevis’s “The Queen’s Gambit”!

Local boy

Please join us for the Another Look book club discussion of Walter Tevis‘s Queen’s Gambit. The novel is about chess, and more particularly about Beth Harmon, a sullen and unremarkable orphan – until she plays her first game. By sixteen, she is playing chess at the U.S. Open Championship. The Queen’s Gambit follows the intense mental and existential pressures that a chess champion must endure in order to remain at the top of the game.

Tevis is best known for his three novels that were turned into major films: The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. Tevis was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Sunset District. While his parents relocated to Kentucky, he spent a year in the Stanford Children’s Convalescent Home (which later became Stanford’s Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital). Hence, Another Look’s winter event will be a homecoming for the author, who died in 1984.

The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. TONIGHT, Tuesday, January 29, at the Bechtel Conference Center of Encina Hall. Panelists will include Stanford’s National Medal of Arts winner Tobias Wolff; acclaimed author Robert Harrison, and former Stanford fellow Inga Pierson.

“Playing chess with my father”: Will Tevis remembers

 

The family in 1960: wife Jamie Tevis, daughter Julia Tevis (McGory), author Walter Tevis, and son Will holding a friend. (All photos courtesy the Tevis Estate)

When I was in my preteens, I picked up a few games that interested my Dad. One was a billiards game called “one pocket” and the other chess. Both games are similar in that they require practice, patience, and an extraordinary amount of concentration.

I’m an athlete, my Dad was not. So for a father-son relationship, these games, combined with fishing, became the biggest reason we spent time together and an essential part of our friendship.

One thing I would like to point out, which isn’t readily apparent, is the universal appeal all his interests shared. We all know that fishing is a profession and pastime shared by cultures all around the world. What’s not so well known is that many, if not the best, pool and chess players are from outside the United States. The great number of participants from other countries compounds the difficulty of being recognized internationally as truly great in those fields. And in the case of Beth in The Queens Gambit, she’s a young girl as well, which makes it much more challenging, creating an environment for the underdog to satisfy our desire to win against the odds.

Walter Tevis was an underdog who beat the odds. The characters that he created – Eddie Felson, Jerome Newton, and Beth Harmon – all had an internal drive that launched them to overcome unbelievable odds, but still not live happily ever after. Walter Tevis was the struggling underdog, too. He overcame inner demons to win in his literary field, only to die far short of a satisfying life.

To me and my sister he was our Dad. The only one we had. He loved us and liked to play games with us. He was funny and a joy to be with. We could easily tell he liked us. He was the good cop to our mom’s bad cop.

I never thought of him as having a ferocious desire to win. I’ve known people who are fiercely competitive and he wasn’t like them. But you need to remember playing against me in chess was different than playing with others. For years he displayed the attitude, “If I beat him, I win; if I don’t beat him, my prodigy beats me. I win either way.” For a time it felt like that. I would come home at nine or ten in the evening. Dad would be in his office reading and waiting for me. Then we would play speed chess. Five minutes each. I would slaughter him. After a time, I would give him fifteen minutes to my five and we wouldn’t start the clock until each of us moved five times. I still clobbered him.

Around this time, he and his friend Don Richter started playing chess together. Richter had a cabin in Canada where the three of us spent one summer. We had two boards and two clocks. After I consistently beat them separately, they thought about having me play them both at once. So we did. Their beatings got worse.

I’m not a particularly good Chess player now – nor was I then. I had a young quick mind and an aggressive playing style. Plus, I always got to play white. (I always open with PK4.) I think at that time it was okay for them to lose like that. It was too easy for me. They were awestruck. I was in their heads. But it didn’t stay that way for long.

Not long after we got back to Athens (Ohio), Richter and Dad started studying Modern Chess Openings. They both started getting a lot better, fast. Especially in speed chess. Because of the time limit, any moves thought out beforehand proved to be way too powerful for me to push through for just one game at a time. No way could I play two at once. It was also around this time they started playing in local Chess tournaments. Both of them had modest beginner’s ratings.

Dad and I would also play longer games in which he became a much, much improved player. Before Richter and he started their study program, I would imagine if we played 10 games I would win 7. After Dad and Richter studied, I’d be doing good to win 2 games out of 10. It was also around this time he’d like to tell this joke. A guy has taught his dog to play chess. “You taught your dog to play chess!? That must be an awfully smart dog.” “He’s not all that smart. I beat him two out of three games.”

Walter Tevis could write an exciting game-winning sequence that can easily be followed even if you never played the game he was writing about. He was a wonderful storyteller and a great writer.

He played a good game of chess. He was hard to beat in one pocket.

My sister and I take great pride in his contributions to the literary world and the acknowledgments he continues to receive. But for us when we reflect on his life, we remember him mostly as our Dad.

– Will Tevis

 

Another Look launches its seventh season with W.H. Hudson’s Green Mansions.

About 150 devoted book fans braved the campus-wide construction at Stanford to attend our Another Look fall event on William Henry Hudson’s Green Mansions on Tuesday, October 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the Bechtel Conference Center of Encina Hall. The event launched Another Look’s seventh season. First published in 1904, Green Mansions seamlessly blends nineteenth-century romanticism with the ecological imperatives that would come to the forefront in the twentieth century. Discussants included Prof. Robert Pogue Harrison, director of Another Look, Prof. Laura Wittman, and the Dean of Continuing Studies, Charles Junkerman.

Harrison at the podium.

The book had more fame back then than it does now – despite a 1959 film with Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins. Said novelist Ford Madox Ford of the novel: “There was no one – no writer – who did not acknowledge without question that Hudson was the greatest living writer of English … I have never heard a writer speak of him with anything but reverence that was given to no other human being. For as a writer he was a magician.” According to Joseph Conrad, “Hudson’s writing is like grass that the good God made to grow, and when it is there you cannot tell how it came.”

The plot: Abel Guevez de Argensola, flees to the Venezuelan interior after launching a failed coup in Caracas with his friends. In the remote jungles and savannas, he lives among the native people, learning their language and their ways. While exploring the terrain, he hears strange bird-like singing and discovers a young woman with a mysterious story. His love for her desolates and transfigures his life. Hudson was better known as a naturalist and ornithologist, and his opinions were fierce, particularly about cruelty to animals. On his grave is written: “He loved birds and green places, and the wind on the hearth, and saw the brightness of the skirts of God.” But his opinion of his fellow man could be harsh. In 1915, he wrote to a friend, “You think it is a ‘cursed’ war. I think it is a blessed war. And it is quite time we had our purification from the degeneration, the rottenness that comes with everlasting peace. The blood that is being spilled will purge us of many hateful qualities – of our caste feeling, or our detestable partisanship, our gross selfishness and a hundred more. Let us thank the gods for a Wilhelm and a whole nation insane with hatred of England to restore us to health.”

Photos of the event, as always, by Another Look aficionado David Schwartz. And the podcast for the event is here.