Clean Cup! Move Down!


Ok, that line isn’t in the book, it’s from the Disney movie Alice in Wonderland from 1951. But it is from the tea party scene. With the coming release of the Tim Burton movie, “Alice in Wonderland” many of us are feeling some Alice-fever. Based on this idea, Gypsyscarlett has posted a very intriguing list of six authors, 3 male, 3 female, she would invite to a tea party. Although whittling the list down to only six was almost physically painful, here are my six who made the cut:

1. Lewis Carroll. The man himself, the inventor of the Mad Tea Party, would be the penultimate guest at such a soiree. And of course he’d have to finally explain why a raven is like a writing desk.

2. Jane Austen. You had to see that coming. So many questions about her books, where she got her inspiration, how many of her characters were based on real people, why she had Cassandra burn her letters after her death. Her insights into human nature and emotion blew me away. For a country parson’s daughter to achieve what she did while living the stifling sort of life an unmarried woman in early 19th century England was condemned to is nothing short of miraculous. Why do we lose so many of the great ones so young?

3. Virginia Woolf. Another trail-blazer. I’d love to have her and Jane Austen in the same room. Honestly, the woman is an icon, what more can I say?

4. Isaac Asimov. His visions of the future are still the basis for movies, research, books, you name it. The inventor of the Three Laws of Robotics (1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law) will hopefully govern the behavior and development of robots as they become more and more human-like in the future, as I have no doubt they will.

5. Jack Kerouac. We have to have one wild child. I want to hear more road stories, in his beautiful prose. The man sure had a way with words. Charles Laughton, who did one-man reading tours, included a selection from “The Dharma Bums” that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen. As Mr. Laughton said, “Not too bad for a beatnik.” Another one we lost way too soon.

6. Edith Wharton. Her novels gave us a glimpse of life among the wealthy and privileged and what the consequences can be for those who somehow fall outside the lines in late 19th c – early 20th c New York. I would love to know what she really thought of her peers. And I’d like to settle the question of whether Lily Bart’s death was suicide or an accidental overdose.

So those are my picks for a tea party, although I could see this lasting well into the night and the drink eventually turning to sterner stuff.

Now, who would you invite to tea?

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17 thoughts on “Clean Cup! Move Down!

  1. OK, here’s my list:

    1 with a bullet is, of course James Joyce, both b/c I’d love to hear how a person who writes like that would speak, and what he’d make of 21st century American English, and because the Ellman biography makes him sound like a real charmer, as long as you don’t loan him money.

    2. the late John Updike. A guy like that, with such respect for the history of language, who took such pleasure in its potential, would surely have a few things to say to Jim J. For the sheer beauty of the vocabulary, I’d love to watch these two in action.

    3. George Bernard Shaw, because he could be funny, and touching, and sentimental, and sarcastic all at once, and he & Joyce might decide to liven up the party by singing some wacky old Irish songs. (I have to admit I really agonized between Shaw and Samuel Langhorne Clemens; it was almost a draw, and if Shaw doesn’t RSVP quickly I’m calling Clemens, if only to scold him for the way Adventures of Huckleberry Finn went off into the ditch in last few chapters, when Tom Sawyer showed up and started treating Jim like crap.)

    now, the broads. This was tough b/c my first two choices, Toni Morrison and Michelle Cliff, might well want to start brawling with the aforementioned old white guys, for coopting the language for so long. Then I decided what the hell, what’s language for if not a good argument? So they’re in. That leaves me with one seat remaining, which I’m offering to Adrienne Rich, because I think a poet would help round things out, and because her collection “The Dream of a Common Language” opened up my ideas about the possibilities of the written word, when I read it in college (If SHE doesn’t RSVP in a hurry, I’m inviting Margaret Atwood, because she’d be as capable of holding her own as she would be willing to learn from the other great ones.)

    I’m inviting Joyce to come a little early, b/c I’m hoping tht if we speak for a while, I might have an easier time understanding Finnegan’s Wake. After the rest of the crew shows up, I’m not saying a word. I just want to listen.

    p.s. everybody – Didge and I are re-reading Alice in Wonderland this week – anybody want to join us?

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    1. Oh mymymy, fantastic choices! I considered Atwood and Morrison too, and Dorothy Parker, but I thought Morrison might be too well-behaved and frankly I was looking for fireworks 😉 But yeah, just get them all in a room and sit back and listen.

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      1. They’re all too fantastic to be “normal,” but my faves are Ulysses & Portrait of the Artist, in that order. My take on Joyce is that the early work (Dubliners) is beautifully written, albeit in fairly “normal” prose. In Portrait he start pushing the envelope, fooling around w/the limits of the English language and basically inventing the stream of conciousness POV in the process, as well as predicting a lot of cinematic conventions at a time when the movies were still in their primitive infancy. In Ulysses, he takes it a bit further: even though Leopold never leaves Dublin city limits, one language isn’t enough and he starts messing with all those foreign allusions; I think if he’d lived long enough, Joyce would have invented another language, and that’s where Finnegans’ Wake was going, but I’m not going to lie to you, I only got through a couple of chapters. (Can you tell I’m a bit of a Joyce geek?)

        I’ve been keeping my eye out for a class or seminar or something to help me through FW, but I’ve never come across one, even though I work in the English department of a fairly well-regarded university.

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      2. Everyone I know that’s tried to read Finnegans’ Wake has failed but loved the attempt anyway. I don’t know many books that people enjoy failing at but it seems I might of found one.

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  2. Here’s the thing – it’s hard to tell where a circle should begin or end, and Joyce knew that, so I’m thinking he wouldn’t mind if we picked it up and read a few pages at any point – it’s been a while, but I’m starting to believe that he might not have intended the reading experience to follow the traditional linear [“normal” ;)] narrative of other books.

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    1. I once was told that if I attempt to read this book I should either read it aloud or get it on Audiobook, this way you can listen to the words instead of reading the words

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