Kafka writes about what kind of books we need, Alcuin writes a poem to his cell, and we look at the WWII P. G. Wodehouse scandal, which illustrates how easily fear in tough times can exaggerate a slight misstep and cause the grossly disproportionate destruction of a decent person’s reputation.
Happy Birthday Franz Kafka, born in Prague on this date, July 3, in 1883.
You can either read or listen to a podcast with highlights from Kafka’s life by Minnesota writer and humorist, Garrison Kiellor, at his recently revived Writer’s Almanac here.
Kafka once wrote in a letter to a friend: ‘The books we need are of the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation — a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.’”—Garrison Kiellor
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Katy Carl recommended this link about medieval scholar, educator, and writer, Alcuin, at Amy Wellborn’s “Charlotte Was Both” blog, with this comment, “Relevant to the ‘New Medievalism.’ Sign me up; a monastic cell sounds amazing right about now.”
I share it with you just to help you remember – that as the world might seem to be shifting under your feet or changing too fast, leaving you behind – Alcuin wrote this over a thousand years ago. You’re not alone.
Here are the first two lines of O Mea Cella in Latin.
O mea cella, mihi habitatio dulcis, amata, semper in aeternum, o mea cella, vale. . . .
O my cell, for me a dwelling sweet, beloved, Ever into eternity, o my cell, farewell.”—Amy Wellborn
A Catholic Encyclopedia article referenced by Wellborn tells us that Alcuin also invented cursive handwriting.
Katy Carl added, “A commenter on that post left this tangentially related effort of the Diocese of Tulsa, named after the poet in question”: Alcuin Institute for Catholic Culture.
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Fr. Michael Rennier recommended the above link with the comment, “Wodehouse gets cancelled.”
The New York Times ran this sympathetic piece by innocuously, “How to be an Internee Without Previous Training.”about how it came about that after writer P. G. Wodehouse was interned by the German government, he—seemingly innocently enough—recorded some radio broadcasts in the summer of 1941 titled
Wodehouse was then pilloried as a traitor—until he was rehabilitated only late in his life. For example of the traces of rancor that still may be found, see the following cartoon from the UK Telegraph.
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For Wodehouse’s own words about why he did the broadcasts, see this “Author P.G. Wodehouse’s apologia of Nazi-Germany broadcasts revealed, published by The Times of Israel.
In prose typical of his style, Wodehouse wrote “the global howl that went up as a result of my indiscretion exceeded in volume and intensity anything I have ever experienced since that time in my boyhood when I broke the curate’s umbrella and my aunts started writing letters to one another about it.”
“I overlooked completely the dangerous possibility that a wave of pro-German sentiment might be created in the United States by such revelations on my part as that when in camp I read Shakespeare, that when internees ran out of tobacco they smoked tea, that the Kommandant at Huy had short legs and didn’t like walking up hills, and that there was an unpleasant smell in my cell at Loos prison.”—Quotes from the above-mentioned article from The Times of Israel.