Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Flashback, April 1919: Maugham’s Misogynist ‘Moon and Sixpence’ Published

One hundred years ago this month, The Moon and Sixpence, a roman a clef based on the life of 19th-cenutry French Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, was published in the U.K. by the firm William Heinemann.

The subject matter—a businessman's flight from his career and family obligations to creative and sexual freedom in the South Seas—might have rankled middle-class readers in any event. 

But W. Somerset Maugham also filled his novel with some of the most misogynistic characterizations that ever discolored a work of 20th-century literature. 

Much of that tendency stemmed from a desire not simply to depict a character without illusion—what some might call cynicism and others realism—but also from Maugham’s personal situation. 

Gay in the decades after the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde made such relations criminal, Maugham found himself trapped in a loveless marriage to Gwendolyn Maude “Syrie” Barnardo, with whom he had a daughter. 

The couple had only been married two years by the time he wrote The Moon and Sixpence, but already they were living separate lives—Syrie on her thriving interior decoration business, Maugham in writing for the printed page and theater when he wasn’t traveling with secretary and lover Gerald Haxton.

Still, it seemed, Maugham couldn’t put enough distance between him and his wife, and his bitterness toward her informed this and numerous other passages from the novel (not to mention a subsequent memoir, when he dispensed with the trappings of fiction to libel her):

“When a woman loves you she's not satisfied until she possesses your soul. Because she's weak, she has a rage for domination, and nothing less will satisfy her.” 

In reimagining his artist protagonist, Maugham anglicized Gaugain as Charles Strickland. But, though the novelist changed a number of details about the man, he retained the broad outlines of the life: a restless middle-aged man who obeys the call of his genius, moving to Tahiti, where he passes away.

At the same time, as blogger Maya Alexandri has noted, Maugham still sandpapered the rougher edges from his real-life original, including:

*reducing the number of the artist’s dependent children from five to two; 

*raising the age of Strickland's Tahitian wife from 14 to 17; and,

*having Strickland die of leprosy, not the less socially acceptable syphilis that struck down Gaugain.

Maugham can still be read profitably today for his carefully constructed plots and clear writing style, but—at least in the book group to which I belonged I belonged a quarter-century ago—today’s readers will have a hard time swallowing their disgust with his unpleasant if gifted protagonist.

(Surprisingly enough—at least to me—Maugham himself was deeply appreciative of the 1942 film adaptation of the novel starring George Sanders, pictured here. In fact, he wrote the movie’s director, Albert Lewin: “I cannot imagine that a novel could be adapted in a better way.")

By comparison, other Maugham works—the novels Cakes and Ale, Of Human Bondage, Ashenden, short stories, and plays such as The Constant Wife—are well worth revisiting.  

Quote of the Day (Norman Mailer, on ‘Two Kinds of Brave Men’)

“There are two kinds of brave men: those who are brave by the grace of nature and those who are brave by an act of will.”—American novelist-essayist Norman Mailer (1923-2007), “Punching Papa” (review of Morley Callaghan’s That Summer in Paris), originally printed in The New York Review of Books, later collected in Cannibals and Christians (1966)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Photo of the Day: Horse and Carriage, Columbus Circle, NYC

No matter how often I come upon this scene, it never gets old for me. Maybe it comes from a vicarious desire to experience 19th century life, but without any of the attendant ills. (Yes, a high concentration of these horses used as transportation back then created their own noxious smells.)

Or maybe it derives from something genetic: the way my late father’s eyes lit up in the Eighties on a drive deep into the rolling bluegrass surrounding Lexington, Kentucky, getting out of the car and approaching a white fence, patting the back of a magnificent but gentle animal, and remembering how he felt as a farm boy so many years ago in Ireland.

Quote of the Day (Joe Queenan, on What America Can Use More—and Less—Of)

“This country could definitely use more doctors, more nurses, more teachers, more sheet-rock experts and more kids. A couple more lanes on I-25 out in central Colorado wouldn't hurt either. What the U.S. does not need is more laws, more pundits, more TV shows about zombies, more miracle diets, more rounds of National Hockey League playoffs or more people running for president who have no chance of being nominated.”—Joe Queenan, “America Is Having Way Too Much of a Good Thing,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 27-28, 2019

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Essay: From ‘America’s Mayor’ to Marshal Petain of Trumpism: The Fall of Rudy Giuliani

Jake Tapper: “But why do think Mitt Romney is a hypocrite if he is saying...”

Rudy Giuliani: “Because Mitt Romney did things very similar to that.”

Tapper: “Taking information from Russians?”

Giuliani: “No, no. There's nothing -- there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”
Tapper: “There's nothing wrong with taking information...”
Giuliani: “It depends on where it came from. It depends on where it came from. You're assuming that the giving of information is a campaign contribution. Read the report carefully.”

Tapper: “Mm-hmm.”

Giuliani: “The report says, we can't conclude that, because the law is pretty much against that. Do you think -- people get information from this person, that person, this person….”

Tapper: “So you would -- you would have accepted information from Russians against a client -- against a candidate if you were running in the presidential election?”

Giuliani: “I probably -- I probably wouldn't. I wasn't asked. I would have advised, just out of excess of caution, don't do it. I will give you another thing, though….”

Tapper: “But you're saying -- but you're saying there is nothing wrong with doing that. You -- I mean, that...”

Giuliani: “There's no -- there's no crime.”— Rudy Giuliani and Jake Tapper quoted in Eli Watkins, “Giuliani: 'There's Nothing Wrong With Taking Information From Russians,'” CNN.com, April 21, 2019

When France fell to the Nazis in 1940, few spectacles were as mortifying to the nation’s patriots as Marshal Philippe Petain acting as head of the new puppet Vichy regime. Parents who had once named their children after the general who had saved his country through victory at Verdun recoiled as he collaborated with Hitler’s henchmen, assisting in rounding up the nation’s Jews. The defender of France’s security was now giving a hand to its greatest menace.

More than a few Americans are experiencing that same visceral shock—a compound of disappointment, sadness and rage—at the ghastly public metamorphosis of Rudy Giuliani. In the 1980s and 1990s, he had made his mark in the cultural, media and financial capital of the United States—undermining the rule of mob capos and Wall Street pirates as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, bringing down crime as Gotham’s Mayor, and, at the conclusion of his two terms in office, responding to the 9/11 attacks with sure-footed leadership. “America’s Mayor,” he was lionized by Oprah Winfrey. 

If Giuliani demanded loyalty in those years, he also inspired it. But now, his aides and admirers are entitled to ask what happened to turn him into the splenetic, often unhinged legal pit bull for Donald Trump

Defense rather than prosecution has not proven a comfortable fit for Giuliani. Inconsistencies, gaffes, and questionable readings of the law have been the order of the day, calling into account not just his integrity but even his competence, including:

*saying, “Truth isn’t truth”;

*complaining about “Stormtrooper” tactics used in raiding the offices of former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen when he himself as U.S. Attorney ordered very public “perp walks” for Wall Street execs just arrested; 

*claiming Cohen had “lied all his life,” only weeks after saying he was “honest”;

*denying that Donald Trump Jr. knew he was meeting with Russian government representatives at Trump Tower, when publicly available e-mail messages demonstrated he was; 

*claiming Trump was “immune” from subpoenas by special counsel Robert Mueller, when Supreme Court decisions related to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton indicated the contrary.

Like Petain, Giuliani’s executive ability and judgment may have atrophied through inactivity, but disquieting moral flaws had also been present in each for a while. With Petain, it was anti-Semitism; with Giuliani, it was vindictiveness toward anyone who disagreed with, let alone crossed, him.

This has not gone unnoticed by a number of people who once thought the world of Trump, such as neoconservative commentator Max Boot: “One can only imagine what Mayor Giuliani would have said if someone had called the cops ‘stormtroopers’ — the epithet that he has now applied to his former law-enforcement colleagues who are investigating the president’s personal lawyer.”
The ex-mayor’s deterioration, which began in earnest with his bulging-eyed, wildly gesticulating denunciation of Hillary Clinton at the 2016 GOP convention, only worsened during his interview with Jake Tapper.

Those latter remarks cannot be dismissed simply as a lawyer providing his client with his constitutional right to a vigorous defense, or even as an exercise in spin characteristic of this era of hyperpartisanship. Rather, they lay down a marker for future Russian interference with the 2020 election. 

Foreign interference in American affairs is hardly an example simply of political hardball, but instead represents a threat recognized even as the U.S. Constitution was being debated, according to Matt Ford in The New Republic:

“In the late eighteenth century, the Founding Fathers feared the possibility that corrupt foreign influence would subvert American institutions more than almost any other potential threat to the early republic. They worried that the nation’s future leaders would be more interested in obtaining and holding power than in sustaining the values of a healthy nation. By seeking to turn elections into a playground for foreign powers, Giuliani and Trump have proven them right.”

To put this in context, remember this: as recently as two years ago, even Trump at his then-most brazen felt compelled to change the motive of son Don Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower from an attempt to get damaging information about Ms. Clinton to adoption procedures. Now, Giuliani is saying that even the scrounging for dirt would not have been a problem.

Please take note of another aspect of that remark: a statement from the White House or even the wider Republican Party that he misspoke. In other words: it’s all okay by them. That contrasts with this past January, when The New York Times reported that Trump aides were “exasperated” with Giuliani for allowing that Trump may have been involved in talks over building Trump Tower in Moscow all the way to Election Day in 2016. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Giuliani tried to walk back his statement.)

Yet this follows a pattern in which Giuliani has argued that something would not be “a crime” after the White House had spent months denying that such a situation had occurred. Also in 2018, Giuliani had claimed no crime would have been entailed in any payoffs to ensure Stormy Daniels’ and Karen McDougal’s silence about their alleged affairs with Trump.

Previously, I identified Giuliani as a member of Trump’s “pig pen.” But it is bone-chilling to consider how this relationship developed. With his loud braying about loyalty and his electoral claim that he could shoot a man in the streets and still retain his supporters, the President has developed a Capone-like brazenness, practically daring to be caught. 

In effect, then, Giuliani has devolved from boss nemesis of the Eighties to boss mouthpiece today. He has become everything that he once denounced and battled with every fiber of his being.

When Giuliani and Trump rose to fame in New York in the 1980s, they didn’t seem particularly close. Arguably, their personalities even diverged, with Giuliani eyeing his climb from crusading prosecutor to elective office with utmost seriousness while Trump cultivated an image as a fabulously rich playboy developer. That makes their current relationship all the more curious.

There are those who would say that the Giuliani we know today was really there all along. “Rudy’s demeanor left a trail of resentment among the dozens of federal judges in Manhattan, many of whom had worked in that U.S. attorney’s office,” former FBI Director James Comey wrote in his memoir, A Higher Loyalty. “They thought he made the office about one person, himself, and used publicity about his cases as a way to foster his political ambitions rather than doing justice.”

Furthermore, a 2005 book edited by my college classmate and friend Rob Polner, America's Mayor: The Hidden History of Rudy Giuliani's New York, catalogued the less praiseworthy aspects of the Giuliani mayoralty. In what seems increasingly like prophecy, it warned that, given his track record, his already-apparent attempt to reach higher office should be regarded with extreme caution.

Where did it all go wrong for Giuliani? Early polls in the 2008 campaign showed him as the GOP front-runner, but he never gained traction with the party’s base, which had less and less use for a Northeastern regarded not just as part of a governmental system they regarded with suspicion but even as a “moderate.” (When he left his second wife, he stayed for six months in a midtown apartment lent by two gay friends.)

His consulting work, an increasingly common means for Presidential contenders to bide one’s time for future office by fattening the wallet, left his legal skills rusty. Actually, it did far worse, according to Andrew Kirtzman, a former New York journalist and current president of an eponymous bipartisan political consulting firm. In a May 2018 interview with Isaac Chotiner of Slate, Kirtzman, author of Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City, noted: “He took a whole bunch of clients who were foreign dictators, and others who were unsavory, and he geared his efforts towards making money and also playing in a sketchy international realm.”

Much of the GOP on Capitol Hill, faced with Trump’s serial mendacity, have maintained an embarrassed silence. Not Giuliani. He has impugned the motives of accusers on questionable evidence and excused the inexcusable. 

One question arises: Why has he become such a Trump lapdog? Why has he so aggressively filled a post that others avoided because of the necessity of defending an undisciplined, disobedient client?

Is it because Giuliani couldn’t resist being part of the political conversation, even if it meant he would not get a coveted post like Attorney-General or Secretary of Homeland Security? Did he need the money to pay for what surely will be an expensive divorce from his third wife?

I suspect that something else may be involved. Whether parading in front of the cameras as a prosecutor, haranguing opponents at City Hall, or embarking on an extramarital affair, Giuliani has been bent on proving he is an alpha male. 

But after his good-soldier appearances on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 campaign after the “Access Hollywood” tape—when all other surrogates for the candidates canceled their weekend TV appearances—Trump dressed down Giuliani in front of staffers for being too apologetic. 

“I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life,” Trump raged, according to Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House. “They took your diaper off right there. You're like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?" Then, moving in for the kill with the ultimate Trump putdown: “You’re weak, Rudy. You lost it.”

For all his willful ignorance about public policy, Trump has honed an unerring instinct in his professional dealings with World Wrestling Entertainment that has made him a dangerous wielder of power: how to psychically emasculate someone, even a politician like Giuliani with experience he could not match. That humiliation ritual worked to perfection with Giuliani, who has never apologized for any Trump action since.

Like France’s Third Republic—the regime that fell, giving way to Petain—21st-century America has been rendered vulnerable by corruption, political polarization, and economic dislocation. Particularly on the GOP side, it is a landscape marked by equal parts fear and opportunism, with longtime political operatives like Giuliani betting that by collaborating with Trump, they will continue to make their mark in public life with no consequences for themselves. 

Giuliani and his like had better think again about what it means to deal with a capricious head of government ready to change his mind and his loyalty on the merest whim. One man who could tell him about what can ensue would be Lord Hastings, facing death at the hands of the man he had once foolishly given his allegiance to in Shakespeare’s Richard III: 

“O momentary grace of mortal men,
Which we more hope for than the grace of God!
Who builds his hope in air of your good looks
Lives like a drunken sailor on a mast,
Ready with every nod to tumble down
Into the fatal bowels of the deep.”

(The accompanying photo of Rudy Giuliani was taken by Gage Skidmore at an August 2016 immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump in Phoenix, Arizona.)