The Rest Is History

Poetic pilgrimages, a language for everyone, and the terror of Victorian England.

By Angela Serratore

Friday, October 07, 2016

 Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, by Artemisia Gentileschi, 1638–1639.

• Spring-Heeled Jack, boogeyman of early Victorian England: “According to an account that was widely publicized at the time, in February of 1838, a man rang the doorbell of Jane Alsop, screaming that they had caught Spring-Heeled Jack, and that they needed help. When she brought the man a candle there in the dark street, he proceeded to breathe blue flame in her face and tear at her clothes and skin with metal claws. She ran back towards her house, but he continued to cut her with his claws, until Alsop’s sister came to her rescue, scaring off the attacker. Alsop described Jack as having eyes like red fireballs, and wearing a helmet and tight-fitting white outfit. It was a bizarre account, but Spring-Heeled Jack’s reputation as some kind of devil grew.” (Atlas Obscura)

• Artemisia Gentileschi, the baroque painter who put her often-troubled life into her work. (The Guardian)

• William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and the peculiarities of literary fame: “That the poet only ever published 10 of her nearly two thousand poems in her lifetime—and did so anonymously—fits in with the vision of the white-clad recluse who ran upstairs when visitors called. Dickinson’s statements about fame, that ‘fickle food,’ and her own self-diminishing descriptions seem to corroborate the idea that the poet shunned sharing her writing with the public as surely as she shunned the neighbors who knocked on her door.” (Public Books)

• A brief history of Esperanto, the universal language. (Los Angeles Review of Books)

• What we miss when we turn the founders of America into mythological icons: “If we imagine the world of ideas as a frozen pond, then the American revolutionaries were the skaters who ignored the sign that said ‘Thin Ice’ and skated on, above the deepest, black water. The ice was thin, but thin was interesting, exhilarating. It was where worlds of exploration and possibility opened. What is this new place, America? How in fact do we know what kind of government best serves the people who live there? What sort of data should we use? Our senses? Nature? History? The American revolutionaries wondered; they did not know.” (Aeon)

• Who won’t win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year? (The New Republic)