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Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge: Notes Towards an Analysis

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle analyses Rainer Maria Rilke’s innovative novel

Published in 1910, Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge is a rather experimental novel: a more or less plotless, meandering account of one man’s everyday experiences in Paris in the early twentieth century, interspersed with personal memories and reveries, which are often highly mysterious or only partly explained. The title The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge says it all: this is no novel in the conventional sense but rather fictionalised ‘notebooks’, diary entries, or journal fragments from one of the most innovative poets of the early twentieth century. Read the rest of this entry


A Short Summary of Arthur Miller’s ‘Tragedy and the Common Man’

An analysis of Miller’s great defence of a new kind of theatre

As we mention in our collection of interesting facts about Arthur Miller (1915-2005), the noted US playwright’s family had been relatively prosperous, but during the Great Depression of the 1930s, as with many other families, their economic situation became very precarious. This experience had a profound impact on Miller’s political standpoint, and this can be seen time and time again in his work for the theatre. He aligned himself with the leftist politics of the 1930s, namely socialism. His early successes as a playwright were in the genre of social drama. That is, a social problem or issue in contemporary society is explored on stage. More specifically, the dramatic conflict arises usually from a moral dilemma faced by the individual that is related to some kind of flaw or corruption in the social order.

Death of a Salesman (1949), his most famous play, bears some Read the rest of this entry

A Section-by-Section Summary of T. S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday

A summary of a major Eliot poem

The following constitutes a very brief summary of the six sections of T. S. Eliot’s long poem Ash-Wednesday (1930), which was the first major poem Eliot wrote after his conversion to Christianity in 1927. (That same year, he wrote ‘Journey of the Magi’, but Ash-Wednesday was a poem on an altogether larger scale – so the following brief summary may help to clarify the ‘narrative’ of the poem and how it charts the religious journey of the poet.

Part I introduces the speaker, who is a person without hope, for whom the world holds few pleasures. Life has lost its meaning and joy because the speaker has lost his faith. There are echoes here of ‘The Hollow Men’: the idea of a person in a sense cast out from the world of life and growth. The speaker renounces all earthly and temporal things, and acknowledges the emptiness of worldly aspirations and ambitions (see the image of his ‘wings’ as merely ‘vans to beat the air’, rather than to soar up into higher things). Read the rest of this entry