Category: dying


A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh (First published, 1934)

dustIn his chosen career as a novelist Evelyn Waugh has to write about human beings but you get the strong feeling from this cynical and morally vacuous novel that he didn’t like people much. He became a committed Catholic soon afterwards and presumably he took comfort from an organized religion that takes it for granted that we are all born sinners.

Its title comes from a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – an allusion to death given that someday all of us return to dust.

Like a vindictive deity or grim reaper, Waugh moves his sad characters around like someone idly engaged in a game of chess with himself. None of them are presented in a flattering light and their actions are mainly driven by apathy, ennui or spitefulness. They are well off, comfortably placed and bored out of their skins.

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220px-george_charles_beresford_-_virginia_woolf_in_1902_-_restorationOn this day in 1941 Virginia Woolf took her own life aged 59 by  weighing down her jacket with stones and drowning in the River Ouse near her home in Sussex, England.

By way of tribute, below is a You Tube link to Max Richter’s haunting music composed for Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works which begins with a reading of Woolf’s suicide note to her husband, signed ‘V’ which is beautifully read by Gillian Anderson. Continue reading

new_skin_for_the_old_ceremony As a gift to a friend of mine who is retiring soon, a group of friends and colleagues have been asked to write articles about a poem or song.

These texts will be connected by the themes of one, or more, of the four elements – fire, earth, water and air.

I have chosen to write a piece on Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire which, as you may know or recall, goes like this:

And who by fire, who by water,
 who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
 who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
 who in your merry merry month of may,
 who by very slow decay,
 and who shall I say is calling? Continue reading 

Why Woolf Works works

woolfworksIt might seem an odd notion to base a dance performance on three novels by Virginia Woolf, but Wayne McGregor is a choreographer who makes his own rules. He proves that great prose can inspire and captivate in the same way that the rhythmic flow of lyrical poetry can.

Woolf Works was premiered to huge acclaim in 2015 and is divided into three sections: ‘I Now, I Then’ is based on the themes in Mrs Dalloway; ‘Becomings’ takes its cues from the surreal wit & vitality of Orlando and ‘Tuesday’ is inspired by The Waves, Woolf’s most experimental novel.

This final section is also named after the heading to the suicide note Woolf left for her husband. This letter, which begins “I feel certain that I’m going mad again”, is beautifully read by Gillian Anderson as a preface to the profoundly moving conclusion.

The revival of these pieces was a hot ticket at The Royal Opera House but has now reached a wider audience thanks to a live worldwide broadcast in over 1,500 cinemas and more than 35 countries on February 8th 2017. Continue reading

amour“Death is no different whined about than withstood” wrote Philip Larkin in his desolate poem Aubade. In other words, whether we live paralysed by fear or accept it, the grim reaper will get us one day.

For obvious reasons many prefer not to think too much about the subject at all and regard those who broach the D-word without good cause as morbid (“Can’t we talk about something more cheerful?”).

In movies the topic is widely viewed as box office poison. People go to the cinema to be entertained not to be reminded of their mortality.

This is why many will studiously avoid Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ like the plague. Haneke is known for turning a unflinching eye on ‘difficult’ subjects. In Funny Games we are forced to watch two sadistic psychopaths on a murderous mission, in Caché he exposes the guilty secrets that tear apart a well-heeled couple.

In ‘Amour’, the Austrian director presents the story of a woman who suffers a stroke which partially paralyses her and then another which takes away her ability to move or speak. Despite this trauma, it could be construed as a love story, hence the title, because of the way the stricken woman’s husband cares for her and tries to comfort her. Continue reading

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