Monthly Archives: May 2013

“Arcadia,” by Tom Stoppard

The Big Bang Theory meets Lord Byron

The Big Bang Theory meets Lord Byron

This 1993 tragi-comedy is The Big Bang Theory Meets Lord Byron on stage. Many view it as Stoppard’s best work, though reviews are polarized: some view it as a sort of physics lecture. In 2006, Arcadia was nominated for “the best science book ever written” by the Royal Institution.

But there is much more to it. “Arcadia” won the Laurence Olivier Award in 1994, and was nominated for the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award in 1995. Sexual comedy alternates with a historical literary mystery, and the early 19th century alternates with the present, in the same set, and sometimes the two eras seem to merge. The background plot and several of the characters are based on Byron’s life, a fertile field for academics. Stoppard tries to capture the excitement of intellectualism and historical detective work, while acknowledging human foibles. Mostly it works, but the plot must be paramount, and clues are sometimes lost in the chaos. For example, the most important clue, the sketch of Septimus with the turtle, is easy to miss. The attempts at creating multiple parallels and contrasts overreaches at times. One has to pay attention to catch it all. OTL,S! guesses that a great number of college essays have been written on the themes and clever devices used by Stoppard in “Arcadia.” OTL,S! will not set sail into that great ocean (not to say it wouldn’t be fun).

A few interesting (to us, at least) points:
At one point in the second act, we hear the word “primer” (a book), pronounced “pry-mur” (long i). Americans often use the pronunciation “primmer” (short i) for this meaning, while using “pry-mur” as the pronunciation of the same word used to denote a type of paint. A little research shows that both pronunciations are correct, but apparently “primmer” is not used much in England (where the play is set).

Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter, Ada Lovelace, was the inspiration for one of the central characters and was, in fact, a gifted mathematician who studied Charles Babbage’s computing machine and pioneered the idea of computer algorithms.

When the play opened in New York, the role of the cuckold Ezra Chater was played by Paul Giamatti, in his Broadway debut.

Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti

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New method of sterilizing operating rooms promises to decrease infection rate

UV emitter, at left, sterilizes operating rooms (click on image to enlarge)

UV emitter, at left, sterilizes operating rooms (click on image to enlarge)

This is greatness. OTL,S! would never go to an operating room that didn’t use it. Of course, surgeons’ hands, hair and sweat are another matter.

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“The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” by Thornton Wilder

On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below. -Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

This short novel, Wilder’s second, won the Pulitzer Prize for novels written in 1927, the same year that “Death Comes to the Archbishop” was published.  The book was Wilder 1897-1975 was an American author and playwright, who also won Pulitzers for “Our Town and “The Skin of Our Teeth”.
Thornton was a schoolmaster,Wilder invited his students to his home on weekends for what they referred to as the

…Thornton Wilder Literary Society. Wilder usually concluded these gatherings with the dramatic recitation of a poenm on the order of Robert Service’s “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” declaiming every word by heart. (He had been required to learn that particular poem as a boy, he said, as “a punishment.”)  p. 301

recuperating from an appendectomy when the book was released.

To offset the brevity of trhe book, Albert and Charles Boni had chosen 235 pages of thick stock set with a generous-sized font and wide margins, accompanied in the first edition by the ten pen-and-ink drawings by Amy Drevenstedt. They addes a map of Peru and Ecuador on brown endpapers. p. 301

..I have never been to Peru…Why I chose to g4aft my thoughts about Luke 13-4 upon a delightful one-act play by Merimee, Le Carosse du Saint-Sacrement [sic], I do not know. The Marquesa is my beloved Mme de Sevigne in a distorting mirror. [the play is based on a supposed incident in the life of Micaela Villegas (1748-1819)–the Perichole–a great Peruvian actress and courtesan. For a time she was the mistress of the Viceroy of Lima, Andres de Ribera, and she bore him three children.] The bridge is invented, the name borrowed from one of Junipero Serra’s missions in California. p. 303

[Yale professor Chauncey] Tinker told Thornton that certain pages of The Bridge of San Luis Rey had made him weep. p. 303-4

…the whole purport of literature, which is the notation of the heart.   p. 306

Characters: Brother Juniper, the Marquesa de Montemayor, Pepita, Estaban, Manuel, Uncle Pio, Jaime.  And the abess Madre Maria del Pilar

For six years Brother Juniper busies himself “knocking at all the doors in Lima, asking thousands of questions, filling scores of notebooks, in his effort at establishing the fact that each of the five lost lives was a perfect whole….The art of biography is more difficult than is generally supposed” p. 307-8

Someday someone will realize that one of the principal ideas behind my work is the fear of catastrophe (espeically illness and pain), and a preoccupation with the claims of a religion to meet the situation.” (Wilder’s Journal.) p. 309

Brother Juniper… is seeking “scientific” proof of his existing belief. p. 309

For all its examination of faith and belief, the novel is fundamentally a story of pepople who simply desire to love and to be loved, and who, in most cases, have failed. p. 310

“…the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”  p. 312


Penelope Niven. Thornton Wilder: A Life. New York: Harper Collins, 2012.

notes: Wilder had finished writing the novel [Heaven’s My Destination] in the fall of 1934 under Mabel Dodge Luhan’s “humorous and disciplinary eye” at her ranch compound on a shady plateau on the edge of Taos, New Mexico….The had met through lettes when mabel wrote to preaise his first two novels and to invite hnim to come to Taos. Before her life there, she had been married three times, had befreinded Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in Paris, had prsided over a hohemian literary nd politcal salon in Greeenwich Village, and had been the mistress of the radical John reed. In Taos in 1923 Mabel married her fourth bhusbnad, the chariismatic Tiwi Indian Tony Luhan, who become her spirtual counselor, and then, pitching a tepee infront of her house, had courted Mabel, despite the fact that he had a wife inthe nearby Pueblo community.

Like many other writers (including D. HJ. Lawrence, Robinson Jeffers, Thomas Wolfe, and Edna Ferber) and visual artists (Paul Strand, John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, and others), Wilder gravitated not only to Mabel’s generous hospitality at her comfortable ranch, and the stimulating company she attracted there, but to flamboyant Mabl herslef–her energy, her “bracing” analysis of his work, and the “wonderful and rich resouces” of her intellect and spirit. During the day Wilder retreated into his work on the novel, but broke away gladly int he late afternooon to tke long drives with Mabel at the wheel, expertly neavitgaitng the narrow roads twinigin up and down the hills of Pueblo County.

Woollcott was renowned for his savage tongue. He dismissed a notable wit and pianist: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with Oscar Levant that a miracle can’t fix.” He greeted friends: “Hello, Repulsive.” When a waiter asked him to repeat his order, he demanded “muffins filled with pus.”[8]

The director of 1938’s Our Town, Jed Harris, was the father of Ruth Gordon’s son, she of   and      .   p. 449 Gordon was a great and long friend; she married writer Garson Kanin.

Based on Macdowell Colony in New Hampshire

When won Pulitzer in 1938 for Our town was first author to win for both ficiton and drama. Was runner-up for 1937-38 New York Drama Critics CircleAward, to  John Steinbeck’s Mice and Men. 465-6

Spent Christmas 1962 in Taos and Santa Fe, saw Witter Bynner and dorothy Bretty. Mabel Dodge Luhan had died that year.
died 1975

Freinds with Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Gene Tunney, Alexander Woollcott

obsessed with finnegan’ s Wake, finally decided it “was about anal eroticism plus coprophagia,  and that’s all it’s abot and it isn’t about anythikg else. It’s buried in every five words of it. even that beautfiul last eight pages is deep in it. milions of htose words are to be read backwards, sometimes slighttly anagramatized, smetimes as a whole word, and sometimes syllable by syllable. “p. 490

The Skin of Our Teeth 1942 from Job 19:20. “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.”l

Slightly more than 2/3 of Wilder’s 1939 income came form teh publication of The Bridge of San Luis Rey as one of the first ten books in the new Pocket Books series.  p. 456.

Wrote The Shadow of a Doubt with Alfred Hitchcock

Attacked by Joseph Campbell in Saturday Review of Literature The skin of Our Teeth was ‘an Americanized re-creation , thinkly disguised of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Campbell was aat Sarah Lawrence college and was working on a key to Finnegans wake with Henry Morton Robinson.

Wilder wrote he had receifved from Jyoyce’s novel “the diea of presenting ancient man as an ever-present double to modern man” but that the ‘four fundamental aspects” of Finnegans Wake were not to his purpose, nor were they present in his play. 547-8k

won Pulitzer for drama in 1943

1948 sister Charlotte, prize winning poet has prefrontal lobotomy as had Rosemary Kennedy in 1941, and Tennessee Williams’ sister Rose in 1943.

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