How Wilkie Collins found sensation in ordinary life

16 August 2018

From The Guardian:

In 1871, Thomas Hardy approvingly described “the sensation novel” as a “long and intricately inwrought chain of circumstance” that involved “murder, blackmail, illegitimacy, impersonation, eavesdropping, multiple secrets, a suggestion of bigamy, amateur and professional detectives”. Give or take a bit of illegitimacy, this could be a direct description of The Moonstone.

Except that’s only half the story. It is not just strange events that make The Moonstone so compelling: Wilkie Collins wrote just as well about the everyday world as he did about the extraordinary. In his famous attack on sensation novels in the Quarterly Review, HL Mansel inadvertently explained the appeal of this thrilling realism:

The sensation novel, be it mere trash or something worse, is usually a tale of our own times. Proximity is, indeed, one great element of sensation. It is necessary to be near a mine to be blown up by its explosion; and a tale which aims at electrifying the nerves of the reader is never thoroughly effective unless the scene be laid in our own day and among the people we are in the habit of meeting.

Where Mansel saw a “morbid” cheap trick, others such as Henry James saw something far more interesting. Wilkie Collins, said James, revealed:

Those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors. The innovation gave a new impetus to the literature of horrors … Instead of the terrors of Udolpho, we were treated to the terrors of the cheerful country house or the London lodgings. And there is no doubt that these were infinitely more terrible.

Victorian readers could see themselves – or at least, their contemporaries – in Collins’s novels. This domestic immediacy didn’t just make the books chilling, it also made them persuasive social documents. Later on in Collins’s career his campaigning fervour supposedly got the better of plots, prompting his friend Algernon Swinburne to lament: “What brought good Wilkie’s genius nigh perdition? / Some demon whispered—’Wilkie! have a mission.’” But in earlier books, he was able to make serious, important points without compromising on the storytelling. The Woman In White highlighted unscrupulous practices in private asylums. And The Moonstone is a fascinating barometer both of Victorian attitudes, and the opposition towards them. If, for instance, you were of the opinion that our ancestors were all gung-ho Christians, you need only read the hypocritical narrative of Miss Clack and the humour Collins wrings out of her greed, folly, false piety and the deathly boring tracts she delivers. His ambivalence towards imperialism is even more striking; the intricate plot set into motion by a brutal crime committed by British soldiers against Indians, with plenty of unsettling imagery showing Collins’s clear awareness of the pain and injustice of empire.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The Biggest, Most Chaotic Used Bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere

12 August 2018

From Ozy:

With two million books, 500,000 vinyls and a 45-year history, this ramshackle family bookstore business has to be seen to be believed.

“You’d be amazed at how much standard stuff we don’t have. Someone phoned looking for Barnaby Rudge the other day,” says Jonathan Klass, owner (with his brother Geoff) of Collectors Treasury in the scruffy heart of Johannesburg. “Two million books isn’t actually that much.”

If you say so. Lined up end-to-end, the books would stretch 310 miles to the coastal city of Durban.

If size matters to you, the eight-story (three floors are closed to the public) Collectors Treasury is the largest used bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere. I’ve definitely seen bigger collections of books in my life — the British Library has 25 million — but I’ve never been so overwhelmed by the presence of books. They’re piled behind the front door (Jonathan had to give it a kick to open it), on the stairs and even in the loo. Dig hard enough and you’ll also unearth maps, documents, half a million records (fifth floor) and other collectibles like vases and lamps (first-floor mezzanine).

“How do you find what you’re looking for?” I ask. “By reading what’s written on the spine,” says Jonathan.

. . . .

Chaotic though it may appear, the books are categorized according to topic (there’s an entire room of first editions and an excellent collection of Africana and Boer War volumes) and arranged alphabetically — “unless a customer’s put something back in the wrong place.” I found a biography of the vastly underrated French author André Gide and a book of Jack Kerouac’s paintings. Look long enough and you’ll also find a book you absolutely have to have. Paperbacks start at R60 ($5), but don’t necessarily expect bargain prices. The “excessively scarce true first edition” of John Fowles’ The Collector (great book, if you haven’t read it) will set you back $10,000. And it’s not even their most expensive book.

Link to the rest at Ozy

PG notes that it’s worth going to the OP just for the photos.

Fascism grows like a fungus

11 August 2018

From The Guardian:

Melissa Harrison’s writing, whether in her novels, short stories or nonfiction, has always been driven by a profound sense of the importance of nature, of the turning of the seasons, of the way that an environment works upon the people who live within it.

. . . .

This time, though, it’s the story of one person, Edie, a teenager growing up on a farm in early 1930s Suffolk. It’s a story of place and politics, of nationalism and nostalgia, all told in Harrison’s characteristically precise prose. Harrison grew up in Surrey and now lives in Suffolk and London, where she works part-time as a production editor at Mixmag.

Why did you decide to write about the 1930s?
When I started writing it, I had absolutely no idea that the 30s were going to become such a hot topic, because the referendum was way on the horizon and I naively assumed that when it did happen we would remain and the idea of a Trump presidency was ludicrous. I set it when I set it because I wanted to write about the transition from horses to tractors. I wanted to write about what then changed in our relationship with landscape and agriculture.

This is a novel that feels at once relevant and yet profoundly distant from the England of today.
I felt that there was a world between the wars that was very fragile and my instinct was that it had existed for a very long time and then died out very quickly. It seemed to me to link to a vision of Englishness which felt very powerful and attractive but which was also very dangerous because it came with this payload of nostalgia. A lot of people have been talking about this idea of “deep England” and I’d been interrogating that in myself and recognising that it’s both dangerous and exclusionary. I wanted to explore why we have this nostalgia for a pre-Windrush age.

Did you invent the fascist movement in the book?
Yes I did, although there were a lot of proto-fascist groups operating all over England in those years. Some of them were quite effective. Some were just landscape mysticism, wanting to go back to the old ways; some of them were really vicious. And it’s interesting because it says something about how fascism works, which is not through a coherent belief system but rather as a parasite on other forms of thinking, on fears. It’s a fungus that grows from left and right, if you’re not careful.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG will note that fascists quite often claim their political opponents are fascist.

Home Office refuses visas for authors invited to Edinburgh book festival

10 August 2018

From The Guardian:

A dozen authors who were planning to attend this year’s Edinburgh international book festival have had their visas refused, according to the director, Nick Barley, who warned that the “humiliating” application process would deter artists from visiting the UK.

The festival, which starts on Saturday and includes appearances from 900 authors and illustrators from 55 countries, routinely provides assistance for visa applications. It has reported a jump in refusals over the last few years.

This year, about a dozen individuals had gone through an extremely difficult process to obtain a visa, Barley said. They were from Middle East and African countries, with one author from Belarus, and had had their applications refused at least once.

Several applications remained outstanding, despite some authors being due to appear at the festival in less than a week.

“We’ve had to draw on the help of MPs, MSPs, ambassadors and senior people in the British Council and Home Office to overturn visa decisions that looked set to be rejected,” Barley said. “We’ve had so many problems with visas, we’ve realised it is systematic. This is so serious. We want to talk about it and resolve it, not just for [this festival], but for cultural organisations UK-wide. The amount of energy, money and time that has gone into this is problematic. There needs to be a fix.”

. . . .

According to Barley, the dozen authors were asked to provide three years’ worth of bank statements to demonstrate financial independence, despite being paid to participate in the Edinburgh book festival, and having publishers and the festival guaranteeing to cover their costs while in the UK. Barley said any deposits that could not be easily explained were used as grounds to deny the authors’ visas; one had to reapply three times due to her bank statements.

“It is Kafkaesque. One was told he had too much money and it looked suspicious for a short trip. Another was told she didn’t have enough, so she transferred £500 into the account – and then was told that £500 looked suspicious. It shouldn’t be the case that thousands of pounds should be spent to fulfil a legitimate visa request. I believe this is happening to many arts organisations around the country, and we need to find a way around it.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Wilkie Collins, master of the cliffhanger

7 August 2018

From The Guardian:

 Wilkie Collins wrote The Moonstone at a time of personal trauma and physical agony. But his professional life was going much better: with four bestsellers published in a decade, Collins was one of the best-paid writers working at the time. When The Moonstone came out in 1868, he netted a tidy £750 for the UK serial rights, plus the same again in the US. This was already a much larger sum than most literary novelists can expect today – equivalent to about £168,000 in 2018 – with more to come from sales of the complete edition. Collins was as acclaimed as he was popular, fully aware of his powers and thoroughly enjoying them. In an 1871 preface to The Moonstone he said: “I look back now at the blessed relief which my occupation … brought to my mind. The Art which had been always the pride and the pleasure of my life became now more than ever ‘its own exceeding great reward’.”

There’s a lovely moment late on in The Moonstone where some of this pleasure breaks through. A character called Ezra Jennings is visiting protagonist Franklin Blake, hoping that his friend will be able to remain calm in the hours before they carry out an important psychological experiment together. Fortunately, help is at hand:

“Mr Blake idly turned over the books on his bedroom table. I had taken the precaution of looking at them, when we first entered the room. THE GUARDIAN; THE TATLER; Richardson’s PAMELA; Mackenzie’s MAN OF FEELING; Roscoe’s LORENZO DE MEDICI; and Robertson’s CHARLES THE FIFTH – all classical works; all (of course) immeasurably superior to anything produced in later times; and all (from my present point of view) possessing the one great merit of enchaining nobody’s interest, and exciting nobody’s brain. I left Mr Blake to the composing influence of Standard Literature, and occupied myself in making this entry in my journal.”

The joke works especially well because Collins was so famous as a practitioner of “sensation fiction”: novels that unashamedly thrilled the reader. Plenty of his contemporaries would have known about HL Mensel’s attack on his writing (specifically in The Woman in White) for “preaching to the nerves instead of the judgment”.

. . . .

If you were a reader in 1868, enjoying this in weekly instalments in the magazine All the Year Round, you would have to wait seven anxious days before you could learn more, when Betteredge would continue to bounce you from cliffhanger to cliffhanger. It’s fascinating to look at the original timetable of the instalments and see how Collins engineered intrigue each week. The second episode finishes with Franklin outlining a conspiracy to “frightened” Betteredge; the third closes at midnight with Betteredge suspecting he has “disturbed the three Indians, lurking about the house”. (But he isn’t certain. And you have to wait a week to find out what’s really happened.) Part four ends as a dinner party begins, just before characters you sense are important can be introduced. And part five closes with the wonderful teaser: “The next thing to tell is the story of the night.”

And so on. Combine that with the intriguing detective mystery, dark secrets and the perils out on the lavishly described “shivering sands”, you can understand why Collins was considered a master at keeping readers wanting more. Even today, reading the book in one volume, the suspense and intrigue remain electric.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Socialist bookshop inundated with support after rightwingers’ attack

6 August 2018

From The Guardian:

Socialist bookshop Bookmarks has said that it has been inundated with messages of support after far-right protesters targeted it in an attack on Saturday evening.

Twelve men, one of whom was wearing a Donald Trump mask, entered the central London shop as staff were closing for the day, knocking over displays and ripping up magazines while chanting far-right slogans. The shop, which is planning a free public “solidarity” event with appearances from authors on 11 August, said it had received messages of support from MPs and writers as well as thousands of activists from around the world.

Noel Halifax, who was one of the two staff in the shop on Saturday evening, said: “There were a dozen of them bellowing and saying that ‘we are this, that and the other and it’s a disgrace’. One was saying something like, ‘We wish you burn down’. There were two of us, a dozen of them. I’m 67, there’s no way we [could] shove them out of the shop,” he said.

“They were very shouty, bellowing in your face, saying incoherent things. The books they were holding up and what they were saying about them made no sense. They grabbed hold of a book called Posh Boys, which is about how public-school boys still run Britain, and accused us of being paedophiles for selling this book, saying, ‘You like boys, don’t you.’ That sort of nonsense. They’d clearly been on a demonstration, because their placards were nothing to do with us. They were attacking the BBC, and they were wearing baseball hats saying Make Britain Great Again. One had a mask, oddly enough a Trump mask. I thought anti-Trump people wore Trump masks.”

. . . .

Halifax described the support Bookmarks had received after the attack as overwhelming. Members of the public have been donating money to replace damaged stock and help increase the store’s security, while names including singer and activist Billy Bragg and MPs David Lammy and Rupa Huq have been vocal in their support online. “The normalisation of far-right politics is already leading to chaos and vandalism on our streets. Fascist thugs attacking bookshops is the logical conclusion to a political movement that rejects facts and experts. We need to be vigilant,” Lammy tweeted.

Dave Gilchrist, manager of Bookmarks, said: “This horrific attack on a radical bookshop should send shivers down the spine of anyone who knows their history. The Nazis targeted books because they knew how important radical ideas are for challenging racism and fascism. The same is true today, and that is why we have to show that we won’t be intimidated.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG thoroughly condemns any sort of violence directed towards any legal business, especially a bookstore.

However, one detail mentioned in the OP tickled his Spidey-sense. Although all PG knows about violent far-right British protesters is what he reads online, the Donald Trump mask detail struck him as strange. Do violent far-right British protesters think of Donald Trump as their hero? PG can think of a lot more likely heroes for this type of mob.

The Trump mask immediately brought a false flag operation to PG’s mind (perhaps the result of either too few or too many Diet Cokes consumed today).

To refresh the recollection of some visitors to TPV:

A false flag is a covert operation designed to deceive; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility.

The term “false flag” originally referred to pirate ships that flew flags of countries as a disguise to prevent their victims from fleeing or preparing for battle. Sometimes the flag would remain and the blame for the attack laid incorrectly on another country. The term today extends beyond naval encounters to include countries that organize attacks on themselves and make the attacks appear to be by enemy nations or terrorists, thus giving the nation that was supposedly attacked a pretext for domestic repression and foreign military aggression.

Operations carried out during peacetime by civilian organizations, as well as covert government agencies, can (by extension) also be called false flag operations if they seek to hide the real organization behind an operation.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

On the other hand, PG could be entirely wrong in his musings. Such errors have definitely happened before.


‘Arrogant’ Amazon not held to account on tax, claim critics

3 August 2018

From The Times of London:

The government and tax authorities have failed to hold an “arrogant” Amazon to account because they fear losing investment by tech companies, campaigners claim.

Despite “talking tough”, critics say ministers and civil servants have declined to implement simple changes to force the retail giant to disclose how much tax it pays.

Amazon this week disclosed that its UK Services subsidiary paid £1.7 million in UK tax last year on revenues of £2 billion and profits of £79 million. The corporation tax bill of £4.6 million for the subsidiary, which runs the company’s warehouses and customer service, fell by 38 per cent while operating profits tripled. Payments of £2.9 million were deferred.

The subsidiary’s small tax bill was the result of an employee share scheme structured in a way that reduces Amazon’s tax liability when the share price rises. However, campaigners claimed the figure was “misleading” because Amazon does not publish any details of the tax paid on more than three-quarters of its UK revenues, leaving taxpayers in the dark over its actual contributions to the exchequer.

Filings from the US indicate that its total UK revenues increased by a quarter to £8.7 billion in Britain last year. However, Amazon does not publish details of most of its UK profits or taxes because retail revenues, which accounted for £6.7 billion last year, go through a Luxembourg company, Amazon EU Sarl, which only declares aggregate Europe-wide figures.

Amazon and other multinationals were encouraged to set up shop in Luxembourg by Jean-Claude Juncker, its former prime minister who is now president of the European Commission, with a favourable tax regime.

. . . .

Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, said: “They appear to pay tax at about 25 per cent on profits, which is surprisingly high, although perhaps not for Europe as a whole. However, that’s split between seven countries and we have no idea where they’re paying what. In other words we don’t know if they’re paying the right amount in this country because figures don’t exist.”

He said there are several ways in which Amazon and other multinationals could be made to report their figures transparently on a country-by-country basis and these had been put forward repeatedly to government, but the proposals had met with resistance.

“The accounting profession doesn’t want change because of clients’ ‘commercial confidentiality’. Politicians from all parties have criticised Amazon, but they don’t walk the talk,” said Mr Murphy. “I’ve put this to the Treasury and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but they’re worried a change might put off companies coming here. Amazon is not going to leave the UK when it’s making £8.8 billion of sales.

“Amazon could also make this right by publishing the figures. I’m bemused why it doesn’t.”

Margaret Hodge, the chairwoman of the Responsible Tax all-party parliamentary group, said: “The government has backed country-by-country reporting in principle but has been appallingly slow in following up. Amazon’s actions show an arrogant disdain for Britain and they’re failing in their corporate social responsibility. They’re not paying towards the services they use, and the creation of a well-educated workforce they employ and by undermining competition they’re damaging the British high street, businesses and jobs.

“The tax authorities should be much more aggressive and assertive in defending the interests of British people, but they’re running scared. They shouldn’t as Amazon isn’t going to walk away from those sorts of profits.”

Link to the rest at The Times of London

PG notes that politicians in all countries are always upset when law-abiding organizations (and individuals) take advantage of extraordinarily complex tax regulations to reduce the amount of taxes they pay.

The government is the source of the complex laws and regulations and the government is in a position to increase taxes and remove tax provisions that provide means for businesses to reduce their tax obligations. If businesses and individuals act in a self-interested way in response to such changes (moving to low-tax states in the US or creating a subsidiary in a low-tax country), it is hypocritical for politicians to take umbrage at the universal practice of trying to reduce the amount of taxes persons and organizations pay.

Is Google Attempting to Hack the EU Parliament with Robo Calls, Emails and Fake News?

1 August 2018

From The Trichordist:

Think it’s a coincidence that Google’s search algorithm returns exclusively negative or outright fake news on EU proposed copyright revisions? 

Google is the first imperialist power of the 21st century.  It has no qualms about subverting democratic processes whenever those processes threaten it’s profits.  Most of the time we see these power grabs in the US.  For instance Google used stolen emails to derail a Mississippi State investigation into it’s advertising practices. Most recently Google used it’s pet Senator (Ron Wyden) to try to derail an anti child sex trafficking bill. Wyden was one of only two Senators to oppose the overwhelmingly popular bill.  WTF right?  Makes you wonder what they have on him.

There are so many cases of Google strong arming government officials it would take fifty pages to list them all.  Suffice it to say that in almost all these cases Google upends the democratic processes when government actions in some small way threaten googles internet advertising and web hosting businesses.  From Google’s perspective it makes sense as Google is willing to monetizes any and all web traffic with no oversight, and with no regard to how abhorrent that traffic may be. Google does not give a shit that it may be enabling child prostitution rings, the opioid crisis, or radicalizing lone wolf terrorists.  Any regulation that requires even minimal oversight and might cut into Google’s $110 billion yearly profit(profit not revenue) is attacked by Googles vast network of lobbyists, astroturf groups, google-funded think tanks, paid bloggers, and academics.

The last few years we have seen Google turn their efforts towards subverting democratic processes outside the US.  In some ways they have been more effective in places like EU where they are unaccustomed to the kind of subversive political/academic/NGO practices honed by Big Tobacco.  In the U.S. we have been partially inoculated. Europeans fall hook line and sinker for this shit.

Case in point.

The EU parliament legal affairs committee (recently) voted to approve a new copyright directive  giving authors, performers and songwriters much more control over how their work appears online. The directive would require online platforms to pro-actively manage their platforms so that creators could decide when and if their content appears on digital platforms and under what financial terms.

This does not make Google/YouTube very happy because currently they enjoy an massive subsidy from creators because they essentially use whatever they want  whenever they want. As usual they claim that it is their “users” who are doing the infringing. Not Google. Never mind that Google is making billions slinging ads against all this unlicensed content.

. . . .

In the U.S. Google has consistently used  groups like Fight For The Future.   Fight For The Future purports to be a grassroots organization but it is actually run by a Google lobbyist. Despite claiming to have millions of followers, when they tried to stage a protest in San Francisco before a copyright roundtable they couldn’t get a single real individual to show up. Astroturf.  Fake.

. . . .

During the last round of Copyright Office hearings on safe harbors we observed that the vast majority of tweets against copyright reform were coming from anonymous accounts that were only active when copyright issues were being considered. Fake.

. . . .

Fight for the Future the astroturf group run by Google lobbyist has repeatedly bombarded congress, and federal agencies with identical automated emails and comments. We demonstrated that the “tool” they provided from their website, didn’t verify identity; allowed users from outside US to vote; and allowed repeated voting by simply reloading page.

Link to the rest at The Trichordist

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