universal man: ‘Ben Jonson: A Life’, by Ian Donaldson – review

Ben Jonson: A LifeBen Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always been drawn into a writer whose noble ambition and unswerving individuality are distinct from those of the officialized popularity of famed celebrities simply because of the sheer provocativeness of the author translated into the textual world of reality, which is a reflection of his conceptions by the barrier he establishes proudly and profoundly against those of others. In fact, it is this unapologetic individuality that enables the author to become what he is capable of in protean varieties; an alchemist of words, a high priest of the temple of Apollo, a mortal equivalent of Hercules, a neo-classist of a new renaissance, an independent scholar of the great leaning, and a humanist committed to the Classical principles to contribute to the new capital of the Arts. The hero of the splendid epithets is no less the poet and playwright than Ben Jonson himself, and it is in this superbly told biography Ben Jonson: A Life that his modern disciple Ian Donaldson resurrects the person of Jonson in flesh and spirit vividly.

Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson begins with the burial ground of Jonson and then comes alive as Donaldson presents the protagonist Jonson through a phantasmagorical display of the epochal chapters of Jonson’s life as though to be screened for posterity in Immortal Theater of Art. Donaldson’s capacity of screenwriter and director of Ben Jonson’s dramatic life is deprived of blind idolization of Jonson as a suffering lone wolf-typed writer whose brightness was unfairly adumbrated by that of his contemporary peer William Shakespeare, nor is it intent upon accounting the greatness of Jonson over Shakespeare by elucidating the dichotomic feud between the two equally but differently brilliant literary stars in the constellation of Arts. Also, the book rejects the conventional mode of biography in the frame of “cradle to grave” by guiding the reader through specific epochal moments that profoundly influenced Jonson both personally and professionally during one of the most politically and religiously turbulent periods in the history of Great Britain.

Rich in details of the political and social backgrounds of Jonson’s plays and poems in addition to his personal elements that make him stand out among the contemporary literary figures, Donaldson follows the Thucydidean way of examining the history of Jonson in attempt to transcend the subjectivity of the time and popular opinions on the subject and to balance scholarly objective equilibrium to test the validity of truth about the subject matter to the extent possible by holding his express personal opinion on thereon. The result is myriad imaginations and images of Jonson as the reader likes to create, whether it be that of dauntlessly confident Achilles, wisely ambitious Agamemnon, divinely valorous Odysseus, or compassionately passionate Hercules.

Upon reading this book, I saw the images of Rodrigo Mendoza played by Robert De Niro from the excellent film “The Mission” and Ben Jonson as himself springing from my mind’s garden as both of their faces a piece like a great Ancient Greek statue. Both of them are passionately devoted to their causes, unfailingly humane, and admirably courageous in fulfilling their destiny to achieve their noble ambitions for the good of humanity – one for the building of terrestrial heaven governed by deeds according to the Gospel in the case of Fr. Mendoza and the other in the person of Jonson for the reconstruction of British Renaissance based upon classical principles as a stratagem of moral and artistic reform. And behind this fascinating literary witchcraft lays Donaldson’s superb biography of Ben Jonson that successfully resurrects the noble and heroic spirit of his literary Hero whose work is enshrined in the Temple of Divine Arts as a scintillating star of the Humanities. And I am sure that Jonson is so happy with Donaldson’s account of his life that he introduces his biographer to the Immortals (including his chum Shakespeare) and that they are having a divine feast with heavenly wine in a constellation of literary stars evermore.

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Why I write

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My very first e-book now available on Amazon Kindle

Dear Readers,

Howdy to all. Thanks for visiting my hermit blog either by happenstance or curiosity. Writing has always been my favorite activity by which I feel meaningful and truthful. It has been a magic marble, an alchemical mode of transforming myself into all that I want to become or capable of becoming via the magical process of words. As Francis Bacon corroborates, reading makes a full person, writing makes a whole person by expressing the self to the extent possible. I am not a great writer, but my passionate volition to express my inmost thoughts and feelings that strive for artistic manifestation exceeds such fear of public derision. This yearning for manifested creativity chimes the bell of Kurt Vonnegut’s benevolent adage: “To practice any artno matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”

Hence I published my first-time official short fiction on Amazon Kindle that is available now for free. It’s a whimsical story without a complex plot about a young girl unsure of herself experiences a kind of Midsummer Night’s Dream or Rip Van Winkle’s fairy tale. This may sound audacious hyperbole, vis-a-vis the works of the geniuses in Literature, but the semblance of thematic and the author’s affinity for the brilliance of the great literature allow her to make a literary parallel thereto, so to speak.

As some of you may know, English is not my mother tongue but a beloved adoptive linguistic child of mine that I love to nourish and nurture. That said, my first e-book is my attempt at producing a child of labor. This doesn’t surpass the degree of affection for this blog of mine, which is also a labor of love, but writing a book is certainly on a different spectrum of mental efforts.

Solicitation of readership may come across as an aggressive way of forcing people to read what she writes because it may not satisfy the level of expectations that a reader has set as an intellectual or entertaining touchstone, which is why I find it hard to self-promote my e-book. And yet, despite my shyness fused with hesitation, I would like to request that you try my e-book and leave your feedback on Amazon after reading because that’s the way I can grow into and blossom into a beautiful literary rose in the future. Won’t you as a kindred writing pard throw me a rope of hope to climb up the Alpine Path? Many thanks in advance! 🙂

Best regards,

Stephanie

flowers of pleasure

 

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Enchanting, Intoxicating, Fascinating,

Enveloped in a trance of fragrance

As a sweet mirage of romance floating

Up to her lustrous eyes welled with pearls

Of liquid dreams, misty wishes in beads

Of bubbled evanescence that flashed upon

Her watery eyes sparkling like diamonds,

A sweet vision of Beauty descends upon 

Her lithe figure wrapped in lovely heaps

Of Roses, Bergamots, Jasmins, and Peaches

In Every Possible Variety of Pleasures. 

 

P.S.: This is a rather playful limerick that came upon my mind during bathing. The new set of bathing kits was filled with wonderfully lovely scents extracted from the aforesaid flora, which instantly uplifted my spirit. I felt like bathing in a fairy lake hidden in a magic forest or Aphrodite’s Beach in Cyprus with the glamorous spell cast on me that would be unbroken – forever. 

‘Plain Girl’, by Arthur Miller – review

Plain GirlPlain Girl by Arthur Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first came across this book while looking for my next read on the train, I was immediately hooked on by the simple no-nonsense title of Plain Girl and incredulously surprised by the famous name of Arthur Miller, a celebrity playwright who had once married Marylin Monroe in his prime. Such an incongruous admixture of the images sprang in my mind like phantasms from a presumed association between the Dolorous and the Gorgeous, the Lonely and the Lovely, the Unlucky and the Lucky, all compactness in this beautifully elliptical and deeply heartfelt story about a plain girl whose jewel of beauty was wrapped in a dull, grey, crude titular epithet.

Janice Sessions, an intelligent young Jewish woman living in New York City, seems to share the sentiments of the introverts whose quiet modes of behaviors and shyness often make them unnoticed, if not obscure, among vociferous, glamorous crowds. Think Maupassant, who at the hour of his death confides in his close friend, “I coveted everything and enjoyed nothing.” And Charlotte Bronte, who always thinks she is deprived of beauty and fortune, which prevents her from a delight of love as a prerogative of beautiful fortunate women. And then the Monster created by Dr. Frankenstein whose deformity puts him in a cruel shackle of absolute loneliness with an outcry of “I see inside but dare not to go inside!” They are the concerted echoes of estrangement – whether voluntarily or involuntarily imagined or devised – from lonely souls roaming around, wandering about in a search of happiness in life that can culminate in the union of loves, both Eros and Psyche, the spiritualization of sensuality in totality. This Janice is in want of, this is the source of her existential distress, noogenic frustration that keeps her away from anything miraculous and wonderful every happening to her.

In fact, I wonder if Miller writes this story of a plain girl on the thematics of existential frustration in which his protagonist is made to believe what she really isn’t, whereas her extraordinariness of resilient spirit against endless disappointment and distress renders her all the more distinguished from her peers whose ordinary femininity looks banal and trifle without stories to tell. Such emotional distress may arise from an existential vacuum caused by a collective value, such as in this story the disillusioned tenets of political and social ideologies ultimately culminating in World War II and the aftermath thereof. And Miller so elegantly and dexterously accounts for a woman’s solitary quest for the meaning of life, a sense of purpose in life as a woman of true value against epochal tides of world crisis. The apex of Miller’s literary finesse manifests in every sentence delicately nuanced sentiment wrapped in his elliptical expressions and laconic use of plain words, defying every streak of intricately baroque literature that does not communicate straightforwardly to the hearts of readers.

This book is not to discuss woman’s liberation or to lecture about the superiority of spiritual beauty over physical beauty that so many of you would quickly respond with stock answers. Janice’s doubt about her value of being loved and her preoccupied consciousness to her appearance makes her all the more palpable and realistic to those of you who find a kindred spirit in her and feel that you are not alone in loneliness and that what you think you are may not be the truth. Janice doesn’t need the glamour spell to transform herself into beauty because Janice is not a plain girl, nor has been, and will never be. The same goes for you.

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Feather of Two Truths

 

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Osiris and the Sacred Scale, courtesy of National Geographic

The days on earth ended

And the days in Afterlife began

As the Final Judgment of Osiris,

The Lord of the Underworld

To weigh the sins of the man

On the Scale of Two Truths

Against the Sacred Feather

In the Hall of Goddess of Truth

Waited for him to say “Never!”

 

The assisting gods recited

The long line of sins on earth

To which the man answered,

“No, I had committed none,

None of the sins from birth to death.”

Then Osiris ordered the goddess

To put the man’s heart on the scale

And the Sacred Feather in her arms

To be on the other side of the scale.

 

The heart as light as the Sacred Feather

Kept the Perfect Balance of the Scale,

And the Supreme Judge decided to declare

The man to be true of voice by the Scale

And allowed him to enter in eternal bliss

Celestial Garden among the Stars

That never died but lived forever

Sailing as his happy heart wished

And filled with Eternal Euphoria.

 

P.S.: This poem was based upon my reading of the ‘Book of the Dead,’ an ancient Egyptian guide to the Underworld instructing the dead what to expect, where to go, and how to behave when entering the Underworld. The ancient Egyptians regarded death as new life, the beginning of the Afterlife where the souls of the virtuous dead lived in a heavenly landscape that looked so much like Egypt on earth. The blissful afterlife was meritorious by the ruling of Osiris, the supreme ruler of the Underworld, who questioned the souls of the dead according to a long list of sins that mankind was prone to commit by nature and put their negation of sins on a test by putting each of their hearts on the divine scale to weigh against Maat’s Feather.” Maat was the goddess of truth, and as she put the heart on the other side of the scale, the balance would remain the same if the heart was free of sins. Only such a sinless, weightless heart would give the soul of the man a passport to Paradise. Fascinating.