In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous and beautiful creatures, portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Roman poets placed them on some small islands called Sirenum scopuli. In some later, rationalized traditions, the literal geography of the “flowery” island of Anthemoessa, or Anthemusa, is fixed: sometimes on Cape Pelorum and at others in the islands known as the Sirenuse, near Paestum, or in Capreae. All such locations were surrounded by cliffs and rocks.
When the Sirens were given a name of their own they were considered the daughters of the river god Achelous, fathered upon Terpsichore, Melpomene, Sterope, or Chthon. Although they lured mariners, for the Greeks the Sirens in their “meadow starred with flowers” were not sea deities. Roman writers linked the Sirens more closely to the sea, as daughters of Phorcys. Sirens are found in many Greek stories, particularly in Homer’s Odyssey.
According to Ovid, the Sirens were the companions of young Persephone and were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone when she was abducted. However, the Fabulae of Hyginus has Demeter cursing the Sirens for failing to intervene in the abduction of Persephone.
The Sirens might be called the Muses of the lower world, Walter Copland Perry observed: “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.” Their song is continually calling on Persephone. The term “siren song” refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad conclusion. Later writers have implied that the Sirens were anthropophagous, based on Circe’s description of them “lolling there in their meadow, round them heaps of corpses rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones.” As Jane Ellen Harrison notes of “The Ker as siren:” “It is strange and beautiful that Homer should make the Sirens appeal to the spirit, not to the flesh.”
“They are mantic creatures like the Sphinx with whom they have much in common, knowing both the past and the future,” Harrison observed. “Their song takes effect at midday, in a windless calm. The end of that song is death.” That the sailors’ flesh is rotting away, though, would suggest it has not been eaten. It has been suggested that, with their feathers stolen, their divine nature kept them alive, but unable to feed for their visitors, who starved to death by refusing to leave.
According to Hyginus, sirens were fated to live only until the mortals who heard their songs were able to pass by them.
“Oh Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia — what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better? Nothing. What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee? Nothing. Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, ‘Somebody up there likes me.’ And no longer can a tyrant say, ‘God wants this or that to happen, and anyone who doesn’t help this or that to happen is against God.’ O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!” -The prayer of the Reverend C. Horner Redwine”
― Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan
A group of Anglican nuns travel to a remote location in the Himalayas (the Palace of Mopu, near Darjeeling) to set up a school and hospital for the local people, only to find themselves increasingly seduced by the sensuality of their surroundings in a converted seraglio high up in the mountains, and by the local British agent Mr Dean (David Farrar). Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), the Sister Superior, is attempting to forget a failed romance at home in Ireland. Tensions mount as Dean’s laid-back charm makes an impression on Clodagh, but also attracts the mentally unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who becomes pathologically jealous of Clodagh, resulting in a nervous breakdown and a violent climax. In a subplot, ‘the Young General’ (Sabu), heir to the throne of a princely Indian state who has come to the convent for his education, becomes infatuated with Kanchi, a lower caste dancing girl (Jean Simmons).
Black Narcissus achieved acclaim for its pioneering technical mastery and shocked audiences at the time of release with its vibrant colour and the themes of the film. Audiences gasped at some of the scenes, notably the shot of the vibrant pink flowers, which shown on the big screen was a spectacle at the time. The film’s clever use of lighting and techniques have had a profound impact on later film makers, notably Martin Scorsese who used the extreme close ups technique of the nuns for Tom Cruise’s character around the pool table in Color of Money. Martin Scorsese has said that the film is one of the earliest erotic films, in the last quarter of the film in particular, which caused controversy given its Roman Catholic content. The film was one of his favourites as a boy, and Scorsese has stated that one of the greatest experiences he has had with film is viewing Black Narcissus projected on a massive screen at the Director’s Guild in 1983. In Michael Powell’s own view this was the most erotic film he ever made. “It is all done by suggestion, but eroticism is in every frame and image from beginning to end. It is a film full of wonderful performances and passion just below the surface, which finally, at the end of the film, erupts”.
Newsom was born and raised in the small town of Nevada City, California. Her mother, Christine (née Mueller), is an internist, and her father, William Newsom, is also a doctor. Her parents were “progressive-minded professionals” who previously lived in the Bay Area. Newsom’s family includes her brother, Pete, a fellow musician, and sister, Emily, who inspired her song “Emily” (and contributed backing vocals). She is the second cousin, twice removed, of Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom of California.
As a child, Newsom was not allowed to watch television or listen to the radio because she was raised by parents who she described as, “kind of idealists when it came to hoping they could protect us from bad influences, like violent movies, or stupid stuff”. She was exposed to music from a young age. Her father played the guitar and her mother was a classically trained pianist who played the hammered dulcimer, the autoharp and conga drums. Newsom attended a Waldorf school where she studied theater and learned to memorize and recite long poems. This skill helps her to remember lyrics while on tour.
At the age of five, Newsom asked her parents if she could play the harp. Her parents eventually agreed to sign her up for harp lessons, but the local harp instructor did not want to take on such a young student and suggested she learn to play the piano first. Starting at the age of four she began playing the piano. Only later did she move on to the harp, which she, “loved from the first lesson onward.” From her instructor, Joanna learned composition and improvisation. She first played on a smaller Celtic harps until her parents bought her a full-size pedal harp in the seventh grade. During her teens, she and the instrument became inseparable, and she describes her relationship with the harp as similar to “an artificial limb or a wheelchair. It’s almost part of me, but more to the point, it serves a purpose, and if it wasn’t there I would wonder what was supposed to fit in its place.”
The Bell Jar is American writer and poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel, which was originally published under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas” in 1963. The novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of places and people changed. The book is often regarded as a roman à clef, with the protagonist’s descent into mental illness paralleling Plath’s own experiences with what may have been clinical depression. Plath committed suicide a month after its first UK publication. The novel was published under Plath’s name for the first time in 1967 and was not published in the United States until 1971, pursuant to the wishes of Plath’s mother and her husband Ted Hughes.
The Bell Jar addresses the question of socially acceptable identity. It examines Esther Greenwood, a young woman from the suburbs of Boston’s, “quest to forge her own identity, to be herself rather than what others expect her to be”. Esther is expected to become a housewife, and a self-sufficient woman, without the options to achieve independence. Esther feels she is a prisoner to domestic duties and she fears the loss of her inner self. The Bell Jar sets out to highlight the problems with oppressive patriarchal society in mid-20th Century America. The men in Esther’s life are all oppressive, whether it is in a physical manner or an emotional one.
“The Swimmer” a short story by American author John Cheever, was originally published in The New Yorker on July 18, 1964, and then in the 1964 short story collection, The Brigadier and the Golf Widow. Originally conceived as a novel and pared down from over 150 pages of notes, it is probably Cheever’s most famous and frequently anthologized story. At one point Cheever wanted to parallel the tale of Narcissus, a character in Greek mythology who died while staring at his own reflection in a pool of water, which Cheever dismissed as too restrictive. As published, the story is highly praised for its blend of realism and surrealism, the thematic exploration of suburban America, especially the relationship between wealth and happiness, as well as his use of myth and symbolism.
In 1968, “The Swimmer” was adapted into a film with the same name, starring Burt Lancaster.
The story begins with Neddy Merrill and his wife lounging at a friend’s pool on a mid-summer’s day. On a whim, Neddy decides to get home by swimming across all the pools in the county, and starts off enthusiastically and full of youthful energy. In the early stops on his journey, he is enthusiastically greeted by friends, who welcome him with drinks. It is readily apparent that he is well-regarded and from an upper-class social standing.
Midway through his journey, things gradually take on a darker and ultimately surreal tone. Despite everything taking place over just one afternoon, it becomes unclear how much time has passed. At the beginning of the story, it was clearly mid-summer, but by the end all natural signs point to the season being autumn. Different people Neddy encounters mention misfortune and money troubles he doesn’t remember, and he is outright unwelcome at several houses which should’ve certainly been beneath him. His earlier, youthful energy leaves him, and it becomes increasingly painful and difficult for him to swim on. Finally, he staggers back home, only to find his house decrepit, empty, and abandoned.
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A London-based “consulting detective” whose abilities border on the fantastic, Holmes is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to adopt almost any disguise, and his use of forensic science skills to solve difficult cases.
Holmes, who first appeared in publication in 1887, was featured in four novels and 56 short stories. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887 and the second, The Sign of the Four, in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. The character grew tremendously in popularity with the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia in 1891; further series of short stories and two novels published in serial form appeared between then and 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1880 up to 1914.
All but four stories are narrated by Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson; two are narrated by Holmes himself (“The Blanched Soldier” and “The Lion’s Mane”) and two others are written in the third person (“The Mazarin Stone” and “His Last Bow”). In two stories (“The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Gloria Scott“), Holmes tells Watson the main story from his memories, while Watson becomes the narrator of the frame story. The first and fourth novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, each include a long interval of omniscient narration recounting events unknown to either Holmes or Watson.