Virginia Tech, Women Writers, Dublin, Sexualizing Everday Life,


 Sexualizing everyday life

from Mann and Nabokov to Sheik al-Hilaly

Roger Sandall

Quadrant, January-February 2007

Where are the sheiks of yesteryear, riding romantically over the dunes? Not in Australia. Here a burly Egyptian with an ugly turn of phrase recently set new records for ungallantry. Scantily clad Australian women, complained Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly, go around like "exposed meat" inviting rape.

Of course we all made a huge uproar. Unbelievable! Who asked his opinion anyway? The sheik calls himself a Mufti and thinks he represents Islam Down Under. But the man’s a brute who plainly hates western culture, who may have channelled funds to Hezbollah, and on top this he’s a security risk too. Go home sheik, go home!

* * *

This said, maybe he had a point all the same. It does seem nowadays that you can’t go to the newsagent to buy a paper, or the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread, without being surrounded by acres of glossy magazine erotica and exciting flesh. Not all of us would call it exposed meat, perhaps, but whatever it’s called it’s there—much of it little short of pornography.

To be honest, it seems to me that what the sheik was complaining about is a process that has gone on so long, and has now gone so far, that it has become the water we swim in and the air we breathe: a sexually heightened moral environment far removed from most normal human cultures in the past, where once forbidden instincts, thoughts, and desires, along with grossly exhibitionistic behaviour, are now increasingly treated as routine.

What has happened? Has a moral tsunami left our middle classes in ruins? What has been the corrupting role we ourselves have played in this state of affairs—every one of us that is, from the trash merchants at the bottom, to our most celebrated writers and artists at the top? Last December Kay Hymowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal how when "Britney Spears jauntily revealed her waxed nether-regions to waiting photographers as she exited her limo," this made her "the Internet smash of the season." Hymowitz then underlined the naivete of the exhibitionism involved—the taken-for-granted security of the celebrity world where Britney Spears and Paris Hilton live:

They underestimate the magnetic force field created by intimate sexual information and violate the logic of privacy that should be all the more compelling in a media-driven age."

The sheik and his followers live within that force field—as do we all. Recently too the papers have been filled with scandalised reports of paedophilia in a surprising variety of milieus, sometimes at high political levels. A cultural complaisance regarding men who like boys is not uncommon in the Middle East, particularly among the Bedouin, a fact that is doubtless well known to the sheik. But our subject today is not the comparatively innocent behavior of desert tribesmen; it is the more knowing depravity of modern decadence. What has made us this way?

Art and innocence

A hundred years ago the German author Thomas Mann made an interesting comment. Thinking about morality and its relation to the world of art, he wrote in his novella Tonio Kröger that "as the kingdom of art increases, that of health and innocence declines." Many artists are estranged from life, he said, pursue goals hostile to life, and work continually to destroy the bourgeois world.

Destroying the bourgeoisie was on many people’s minds at the time. Thoughts of bloody revolution were in the air. Mann however suggested that this would be wasted effort. Given time, and left to itself, capitalism would be more easily debauched than overthrown—destroyed by the values of the artistic bohemia it admired.

Artists were exciting. Artists were sexually free. Above all art redeemed the bourgeoisie from the greedy sin of acquisitiveness. As Jacques Barzun has argued, it wasn’t long before art became a new religion, writers were revered as prophets, and as part of this understanding the bourgeoisie came to believe that the creators of fine literature and beautiful music also had beautiful souls.

This was nonsense. The so-called artist’s ‘gift’, wrote Thomas Mann in 1903, has dark roots in a poisoned psyche. "It is a very dubious affair and rests upon extremely sinister foundations." The world should know that most artists today are sick in mind and spirit, a danger to decent people and heedless of the damage they cause. Plumbers and carpenters and other tradesmen are reliable friends. But artists are not. And because he understood this so clearly, the eponymous Tonio Kröger (the character of a writer in the book who speaks for Mann himself) was embarrassed to find complete strangers sending him letters of praise:

…I positively blush at the thought of how these good people would freeze up if they were to get a look behind the scenes. What they, in their innocence, cannot comprehend is that a properly constituted, healthy, decent man never writes, acts, or composes…"

Literature is not a calling, it is a curse, believe me! It begins by your feeling yourself set apart, in a curious sort of opposition to the nice, regular people; there is a gulf of ironic sensibility, of knowledge, scepticism, disagreement, between you and the others; it grows deeper and deeper, you realize that you are alone; and from then on any rapprochement is simply hopeless! What a fate!

The rise of the paederaesthetic

If art increases as innocence declines, is it a matter of cause and effect? In that case Mann would seem to be supporting Rousseau’s view in the First Discourse that literature and the arts are actually making the world worse. It certainly sounds like that. In Mann’s view the writer stands in permanent moral opposition, sceptical and ironic and relentlessly gnawing away. Worse still: having found a role in Art he may have lost a useful role in Life. The sense of being set apart in an alien moral universe is overwhelming:

You can disguise yourself, you can dress up like an attaché or a lieutenant; you hardly need to give a glance or speak a word before everyone knows you are not a human being, but something else: something queer, different, inimical.

Sexually inimical too—or sexually perhaps most of all. "Is an artist a male, anyhow? Ask the females! It seems to me we artists are all of us something like those unsexed papal singers. We sing like angels; but…" Here Kröger/Mann breaks off. Perhaps from weariness or boredom. Perhaps also because the angelic songs of yearning can hardly be named for what they are. Readers of Death in Venice will however take his meaning. In that story the ageing writer Aschenbach lusts after the youth Tadzio, and the ironic sensibility so ably described, the scepticism, the irony, the extreme narcissism, is combined with the mysterious obsessions of the paedophile—such obsessions being those of the author himself.

* * *

Thomas Mann was a towering figure, intellectually in touch with the major currents of thought in his time, and to try and reduce him to his erotic interests would be ridiculous. His diaries for 1933 and 1934 reveal an observer whose understanding of European realities was second to none. Under the Nazis, he wrote, the Germans were becoming a "wretched, isolated, demented people, misled by a wild, stupid band of adventurers whom they take for mythical heroes." In his entry for December 15, 1933, Mann reported Max Planck’s meeting with the Führer:

Planck had requested a personal interview with Hitler regarding anti-Semitic dismissals of professors. He was subjected to a three-quarter-hour harangue, after which he returned home completely crushed.

He said it was like listening to an old peasant woman gabbling on about mathematics, the man’s low-level, ill-educated reliance on obsessive ideas; more hopeless than anything the illustrious scientist and thinker had ever heard in his entire life.

Two worlds coming together as the result of the one’s rise to power: a man from the world of knowledge, erudition, and disciplined thought is forced to listen to the arrogant, dogmatic expectorations of a revolting dilettante, after which he can only bow and take his leave.

Stephen Spender wrote of the diaries that "Thomas Mann is a monumental figure of our time. Reading these journals one feels that this monument is made of very hard, resistant, almost cruel material: but under the surface there is a human being who, together with Freud, was the greatest human being this century."

Under the surface, too, unmentioned by Spender, was a pederastic interest that pervades his work and accurately reflects his inclinations. There is far more to his stories than that, and we should also note that he appears to have spent most of his life in chaste frustration. But with their adored ‘Hermes’ (and their slighted and ridiculous women) the tales he spun probably helped to disinhibit, to condone, and to legitimise predatory behaviour that mothers with children can only regard with dread.

* * *

Vladimir Nabokov once joked that if Lolita had been about a man and a boy he would have had no American publishing problems—and that this was considered a joking matter is almost as revealing as anything else to do with the book. It would of course be ludicrous to suggest a direct connection between the works of these authors and what is now going on in the media and the streets. The self-conscious complexities of literary style alone would exclude all but the most determined reader from the experiences Mann and Nabokov publicise.

Still, there it is, an unbudgeable fact of literary history: two of the most distinguished writers of the 20th century, the most relentlessly cerebral and self-conscious writers, and the most academically admired and studied writers with whole shelves of earnest research devoted to their books, gave what I shall call "paederaesthetics"—the world of belief and feeling embodied in erotically idealised juveniles frankly treated as sexual prey—an important place. A widely used Simon & Schuster reader’s guide for college students from 1995 tells us that

Lolita, with its murder, paedophilia, sadism, masochism, and even hint of incest, clearly struck a nerve in our society by violating a number of its strongest taboos.

I’d have thought that any healthy society very reasonably should have taboos against murder, paedophilia, sadism, and incest. I am neither a prude nor a killjoy, yet rules against these things seem sensible to me. But the author of this student guide to Lolita apparently feels otherwise, suggesting, in accord with his antinomian principles, that the proper function of literature is to overcome such taboos. And perhaps in the case of paedophilia it has succeeded.

* * *

Lionel Trilling discussed Lolita in Encounter in 1958. A critic of high moral seriousness, he made it clear that he wished to avoid a "correct enlightened attitude" or "to argue that censorship is always indefensible." The stakes he said were high—too high for grandstanding about artistic values regardless of social costs. Detachedly considering Nabokov’s literary achievement, Trilling found that Lolita belonged to a tradition of tales about hopeless erotic infatuations going back to medieval times.

Yet to know this literary fact was not enough. After every extenuating aesthetic argument had been considered, it remained the case that Lolita "makes a prolonged assault on one of our unquestioned and unquestionably sexual prohibitions, the sexual inviolability of girls of a certain age (and compounds the impiousness with what amounts to incest)." It might be true, he writes, that Juliet was fourteen when she gave herself to Romeo, and that we all now regard ourselves as sensibly clear-eyed about sex after the enlightenment of Coming of Age in Samoa.

But let an adult male seriously think about the girl as a sexual object and all our sensibility is revolted. The response is not reasoned but visceral. Within the range of possible heterosexual conduct, this is one of the few prohibitions which still seem to us to be confirmed by nature itself.

The sexualizing of everyday life

Not any more—or not in certain circles. Trilling’s is plainly a voice from the past. Today the debate is more likely to concern the acceptability of public copulation or pubic display. If it’s okay for Paris Hilton to make a video of herself having sex and to share it about in cyberspace, why shouldn’t Susie and Jim make one too? A glance at any newspaper shows how each libertine advance ratchets up another without anyone knowing where to stop.

A mass-market color supplement to Sydney’s Sun-Herald for October 29 2006 has the Hilton sisters on the cover, while inch-high yellow lettering shouts "Hedonism is Back, How to Party Celebrity Style". The following 30 pages promote celebtrashery as a way of life.

Spectrum, a literary supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald edited and written largely by women, moves up a cultural notch and features a story about the female author "of a best-selling erotic novel". This cites "a man who wishes women would make more noise in bed, and a divorcee in her 50s finding sex on the internet." Reviews follow, a scene from the film Suburban Mayhem showing a chesty chick in thigh-high leather who, we are told, is "mistress of the SMS, and the local boys are her Praetorian Guard." Reviewer Sandra Hall reports that "Wanna Fuck? is their call to arms" and that the young woman in question "usually obliges."

Some relief from this brazen brutishness is provided by the writer Elizabeth Farrelly. Her essay "In search of a cure for paradise syndrome" questions the concept of illimitable human desires, and quotes Raymond Tallis’s thoughts on this subject. But only pages later there’s a full-color cartoon of a pole dancer getting her rocks off—if that’s the expression I need.

Not wanting to unfairly target a single Sydney newspaper I looked at The Weekend Australian Magazine for November 11-12. The cover is a bold come-on for an article asking if it is right or wrong for women teachers to seduce male pupils. No particular moral stance is adopted, and a number of court cases are examined. Yet by only the second paragraph we are treated to a vivid description of a 37-year-old woman who "wound up in the front seat of her car giving one of her boys oral sex… His friends thought he was ‘a bit of a legend’. He let them in on juicier details, like her glasses fogging up."

Civility and common sense

Now then. Let us stop for a moment and consider. Put yourself in the position of conventionally respectable immigrants from some traditional culture—Sri Lankan Buddhists, Colombian Catholics, Eastern Orthodox from the Ukraine—who are used to certain standards of dress and appearance, who go to buy a weekend newspaper, and who are confronted with this sort of thing. We might also mention the good Rabbi and the pious Lubavitchers over my back fence, whose views of female decorum are in all important respects indistinguishable from the sheik’s.

What conclusion can they possibly draw from the daughters of billionaires fornicating on the web, cries for more noise in bed, shouts of "Wanna Fuck?" from movie stars, a female pole dancer engaged in public masturbation, and Australian women teachers who seduce their pupils and provide them with oral sex? Sheik al-Hilaly is a boor and a pest. He undeniably has a wider political agenda. But if these are not examples of white western women calling for action, what exactly are they?

Thomas Mann’s premonitions have come about. With the expansion of media mimesis in every direction the numbers of those who write and film and act and transform reality in a thousand more-or-less artistic ways has steadily expanded, the boundary between life and theatre has blurred, and what were once the values of a picturesque social fringe have taken over. Many of the people in our Theatrical Industrial Complex are very sick people indeed.

* * *

Getting the balance right between the animal and the civil has been a problem since civilization began. It hasn’t been easy. There has been a perpetual strain between the puritan tendency and the libertine, in China, in Japan, in India, and in the West as well. Some cultures and some eras veered to the voluptuary; some to the ascetic. Alexander Pope saw this perplexity as part of Man’s condition. Created half to rise and half to fall,

He hangs between, in doubt to act or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much;
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused or disabused…

For Europe’s educated classes the situation in the 18th century may have been as near as we are likely to come to a secular world where mind and body, thought and passion, were in some kind of balance—the various worlds of Hume and Rousseau, of Gibbon and Voltaire, of the Baronne de Warens and Madame du Chatelet—a world where both the conventional Johnson and the promiscuous Boswell could separately thrive and flourish.

* * *

Be that as it may, the usual way of dealing with this matter involved a common sense separation of realms. You didn’t publish entertaining accounts of oral sex provided by female teachers for their male pupils in family magazines. You didn’t have leading novelists advertising the joys of paedophilia. Though one should expect, in a free country, that such matters may be discussed and argued about—the pros (few) and the cons (many)—it has usually also been assumed that this would be constrained by a thoughtful choice of time, place, and occasion.

That’s where we seem to have gone wrong. An abandonment of the common sense rules to be found in hundreds of traditional cultures, and a foolish refusal to confine the sexual world to where it belongs, has led to its being indiscriminately mingled with everything else, 24/7. A burly Middle Eastern peasant in a nightshirt may seem an improbable source of moral guidance, yet in a way that’s what the outspoken sheik is—and he’s calling the shots as he sees them. But shooting the messenger is hardly the answer. Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly and his followers are what they are. We are what we have fatefully become.

April 2007

The politics of prose

By Kelly Jane Torrance
Published April 13, 2007

On the final pages of her 880-page biography "Edith Wharton," released this week, Hermione Lee recounts her visit to the novelist’s neglected grave in Versailles. "[T]he tomb was covered with weeds, old bottles and a very ancient pot of dead flowers," she writes. Miss Lee "tidied up" the grave, weeding it and planting a single silk flower.
One hopes her magisterial biography will do the same thing for Miss Wharton’s reputation.
When the phrase "great American novelist" is tossed around, the 20th-century names most often cited are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. But a trio of female writers — Miss Wharton, Willa Cather and Dawn Powell — has done just as much to chronicle the American psyche.
These three aren’t simply undervalued women who in the name of "diversity" deserve a more secure place in the canon — they should be at its peak.
That they’re not says much about how literary reputation is born and sustained. Experimentalism counts for a lot; so does cutting a romantic figure.
In terms of sustained literary achievement, though, it would be hard to top Edith Wharton. She wrote 42 novels, all the more impressive after a late start: Miss Lee marks the beginning of her career at age 37. At that age, Mr. Fitzgerald was seven years away from death, about to publish just his fourth — and final — novel.
Miss Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature (for 1920’s "The Age of Innocence"), but her reputation soon sagged. As Miss Lee told the Boston Globe, with the 1930s "and the radical change of style and much more openness coming in about sexuality, she began to be seen as frosty and old-fashioned and as kind of a minor feminine Henry James."
Films have made Miss Wharton better known. But these "costume dramas" have also reinforced the very image of her as a literary antique of which Miss Lee speaks.
The writer wasn’t helped by a documentary that aired earlier this month on PBS. "Novel Reflections on the American Dream" examined seven novels, including Miss Wharton’s "The House of Mirth."
The novel is a profound exploration of American society through the story of one woman trying to hang onto her soul. It’s all there — the pursuit of wealth, the American dream of social mobility, social expectations versus individual desire, the plight of women.
Miss Wharton wrote the Great American Novel more than once. But "Reflections" focuses sensationally on one scene in which Lily Bart discovers a married friend has loaned her money to obtain sexual favors.
Miss Wharton’s career — her final novels are as good as her early ones — stands in sharp contrast to that of both misters Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The former never managed to complete his beautiful final work-in-progress about Hollywood’s Golden Age, "The Last Tycoon." The latter’s last novel generally deemed great was "For Whom the Bell Tolls," published more than 20 years before his death.
But then Miss Wharton didn’t fit the popular image of the hard-living artist. Misters Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner were all alcoholics. It hurt their work, most notably in Mr. Fitzgerald’s case — he wrote only two masterpieces. But it also made them romantic figures.
All three men, to some degree, lived their lives in the public eye. Mr. Fitzgerald was famous for booze-fueled antics; Mr. Hemingway may ultimately be remembered less for his work than for his macho posturing and being the last American novelist to achieve household name celebrity; Mr. Faulkner wrote scripts for big films in Hollywood.
Miss Wharton, who often took reserve as her theme, kept her private life private. It was the same with Willa Cather, who won the Pulitzer two years after Miss Wharton. Like Dawn Powell, Miss Cather moved from the Midwest to New York. But she lived a reclusive life, forgoing the late-night, literary bacchanalia that might have made her better known.
To this day, scholars wonder if Miss Cather consummated any of her relationships with women — a debate whose ferocity might be keeping her from transcending a claim to the canon as a possibly lesbian token of literary pluralism to one based strictly on literary merit.
Novelist A.S. Byatt argued a few months ago in the Guardian that Miss Cather should be considered a great writer. "Americans I met," she recalls, "usually knew only ‘My Antonia,’ and saw her as a writer they read at school, who specialised in ‘local colour’ about frontier life."
But Miss Cather has explored, perhaps better than anyone else, the spirit that built America. And as New Yorker writer Joan Acocella has said, "Her world has so much to do so directly with the most central problems of living." She wrote men as well as she did women, with clarity and insight into the human heart.
When Sinclair Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, he said Miss Cather should have won instead.
In considering Miss Cather’s critical reputation, Terry Teachout, writing in the March 2000 National Review, cited reasons similar to those for Miss Wharton’s neglect: "Her cool chronicles of prairie life and its discontents contained no Joycean word-juggling, no torrid sex scenes, no class consciousness — none of the ingredients, in short, that literary intellectuals of the ’30s deemed indispensable."
Those same reasons — minus the lack of sex — might also be why the name Dawn Powell isn’t on everyone’s lips.
Tim Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic for The Washington Post, is almost single-handedly responsible for reviving her reputation. Miss Powell, who died in 1965, was virtually unheard of amongst the wider public until Mr. Page wrote a 1998 biography and arranged for many of her 15 novels to be reprinted, including in the Library of America.
Miss Powell’s masterpieces include 1936’s "Turn, Magic Wheel," a deliciously satirical but sensitive look at literary life in New York, and 1942’s "A Time to be Born," a thinly veiled send-up of Clare Boothe Luce. She also wrote novels, like "Come Back to Sorrento," about her Midwestern roots.
"These are great American novels," Mr. Page declares.
Mr. Page, who lives in Baltimore, suggests two reasons she didn’t receive more acclaim.
"She upset social conservatives with her characters, who tend to sleep around and drink a lot, and are not necessarily admirable role models for anybody," he muses. "Then she ticked off the left because she was not a utopian. When she was writing, a lot of the literary world was left of center. She never believed in revolutions, she never believed in inspirational literature. She saw humanity in a mess — always was, always would be. … There are still people offended by her willingness to look at life head on."
Female scholars have championed many neglected female writers. But Mr. Page notes that Miss Powell’s biggest fans have been men. "She doesn’t present women as any nobler than men," he observes. "Everybody is a target for her pen."
Miss Powell did drink heavily, but she was no one’s image of the dashing authoress. "She was short and plump and unpretentious," says Mr. Page.
"She was not great at self-promotion," he adds. "Hemingway was nonstop publicity. Fitzgerald too."
Miss Powell’s New York books re-create a milieu every bit as richly imagined and unforgettable as Mr. Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County — and a lot more, um, intelligible. "I can’t read Faulkner," confesses Mr. Page. "He does absolutely nothing for me."
He’s not the only one.
Some enterprising soul has posted on the Internet "Machine translation or Faulkner?" — a quiz asking you to deduce whether quotations are computer-translated text from the German or samples of Mr. Faulkner’s prose.
Experimentalism — successful or not — has often counted highly in making a literary reputation. But there are signs that literary modernism — a stream to which misters Hemingway and Faulkner, in particular, and Mr. Fitzgerald, to a lesser degree, belonged — is not aging well.
"The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books," a new book edited by J. Peder Zane, contains a top-10 list with votes from 125 writers. The closest thing to a modernist book on the list is Mr. Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby." (James Joyce’s "Ulysses," often a mainstay of such projects, was nowhere to be found.)
Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer book editor, even questioned Mr. Fitzgerald’s inclusion: "It approaches formal perfection but has never struck me as especially profound."
Misters Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner might have had more influence on American letters — though Mr. Hemingway’s lean style easily lends itself to parody. But that only confirms one of our central premises — that they’ve had more attention. It’s hard to influence budding writers when they haven’t read you — or even heard of you.
The women’s influence is gaining. Mr. Page says it’s pretty much impossible to write about New York artists without thinking about Miss Powell.
Her novel "A Time to Be Born," begins, "This was no time to cry over one broken heart." Misses Powell, Wharton and Cather did more in their books than just tell the tale of one broken heart. They explored the heart of a nation with the best of them.

Copyright © 2007 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.


Derek Speirs for The New York Times

The Long Room at the Trinity College Old Library.

April 22, 2007

36 Hours in Dublin


A pint of beer in Dublin will run you 4 to 5 euros, but the famed Irish wit is free. With an economic boom fueled by banks, high-tech companies and tourism, this compact Gaelic city is no longer the land of ramshackle pubs and baked-potato pushcarts. Stylish restaurants, designer hotels and pricey shopping malls abound. But Dublin’s wealth has also brought with it an influx of Poles and other Eastern European immigrants, who are helping to keep prices in check, while also giving this ancient city a cosmopolitan face-lift. So expect phone-card kiosks next to old butcher shops and Slavic accents alongside the charming Irish brogues.


3:30 p.m.

One of Dublin’s finest cultural landmarks, the National Gallery of Ireland, is also its most economical: admission is free. The National Gallery (Merrion Square West and Clare Street; 353-1-661-5133; displays works by 17th- to 20th-century Irish artists including Jack Butler Yeats, brother of the poet William Butler Yeats, and an impressive selection of Italian works including Caravaggio’s magnificent “ Taking of Christ,” which he painted in 1602. Van Gogh‘s “Rooftop in Paris” is among the museum’s recent acquisitions.

7:30 p.m.

Although the culinary scene in Dublin is becoming more varied, its traditional choice of two extremes — standard pub grub and overpriced French cuisine— can be tiring. Solas (31 Wexford Street, 353-1-478-0583), which means light in Gaelic, is an enlightening alternative. An artsy and media clientele gather downstairs at the 22-foot-long stainless-steel bar with red-cushion stools. The new second-floor bar is filled with light from the adjoining roof terrace. This nonchalantly hip establishment boasts a 40-plus list of world beers (5.30 euros, or $7.20, at $1.36 to the euro) and a Mediterranean menu with an antipasto salad with Serrano ham and chorizo (9.50 euros), which will leave you wondering whether your flight detoured to Madrid or Rome.

10 p.m.

Dublin has more than 1,000 pubs, many featuring live Irish music, though you won’t find a posted schedule anywhere. Skip the trendy Temple Bar area and wander north of the River Liffey to Hughes Bar (19 Chancery Street, 353-1-872-6540), which is just behind the eerily quiet Courthouse area. Local musicians like Paul Doyle and a renowned Cape Breton fiddler, Jerry Holland, perform at the bar. The faded pumpkin-colored walls, the plastic plants and old men in cardigan sweaters let you know you’ve found the real deal. For more merriment, head to O’Donoghue’s (15 Merrion Row, 353-1-660-7194) in the South Georgian area, where musicians congregate at the front of the bar, sipping pints of Guinness (4.50 euros) and playing their fiddles and tin whistles, just as the Dubliners, one of Ireland‘s best-known bands did in the 1970s.


9:30 a.m.

Although it might seem sacrilegious to step inside a brewery before noon, consider that Guinness was once prescribed to nursing mothers and patients for its “cheer-producing effect.” Besides, you will want to visit the Guinness Storehouse (St. James’s Gate, Dublin 8, 353-1-408-4800;; admission is 14 euros) before the crowds grow thick around 11 a.m. The storehouse may scream tourist trap, but it’s an engaging and sleek tour of how the dark stout has been made since 1759, beginning with water from the Wicklow Mountains that streams throughout the exhibit. The tour takes you through a labyrinth of catwalks, past an old roasting oven and up a circular staircase that wraps around a huge oak barrel. It ends at the seventh-floor Gravity Bar, where one free pint of Guinness is served per visitor. If you’re still hungry after a Guinness, head to Bruxelle (7-8 Harry Street, Dublin 2; 353-1-677-5362), a barley-smelling pub with worn wood floors that serves a hearty Irish breakfast of fried eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, blood pudding and toast — for just 6 euros.


Dublin was the birthplace of erudite lions like James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, so immerse yourself in its literary traditions. The Old Library Building at Trinity College (College Green, Nassau Street, 353-1- 896-2308;, 8 euros) houses the Book of Kells, a masterpiece of ancient calligraphy and art by ninth-century Irish monks. Upstairs, the magnificent vaulted Long Room has 200,000 of the college’s oldest books, stacked in neat floor-to-ceiling rows, including a rare first edition of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Make sure to also visit the less-heralded Dublin Writers’ Museum (18 Parnell Square, 353-1-872-2077; 7 euros admission), which has the original chair used by Handel for the first performance of “The Messiah” (in the Temple Bar in 1742) and a first edition of “Dracula,” written by the Dublin-born writer Bram Stoker.

2:30 p.m.

A major renovation of the historic Abbey Theatre (26 Lower Abbey Street, 353-1-878-7222,, unveiled this spring, will thankfully replace the Sinatra-era décor and dingy burgundy carpeting with plush new seats and interiors by the French designer Jean Guy LeCat. Built in 1904 (and rebuilt in 1966 after a fire), the Abbey had been the cultural home to such playwrights as William Butler Yeats, while continuing to promote new Irish playwrights like Billy Roche. Coming shows include Arthur Miller‘s “Crucible” (May 26 through July 7). Even though ticket prices rarely exceed 30 euros, you can catch the Saturday 2:30 p.m. matinee for 15 euros.

4:30 p.m.

You’ll see mimes, gents in three-piece flannel suits and stroller-pushing moms walking briskly past the windows of Brown Thomas (88-95 Grafton Street, 353-1-605-6666;, one of Dublin’s grand department stores. But for funky and affordable shopping, check out the Saturday markets in the Temple Bar neighborhood ( The Fashion and Design Market (Cow’s Land) is where you’ll find Irish designers like the jewelry maker Clare Grennan ( showcasing their latest creations. The Book and Record Market (Temple Bar Square) sells used and limited-edition books, as well as vinyl records and CDs. And the Food Market (Meeting House Square) sells delectable raw milk Irish cheeses and organic produce directly from farmers.

7 p.m.

In the land of Guinness, the 470-bottle wine cellar at the Ely Wine Bar (22 Ely Place, 353-1-676-8986; is a refreshing change. The two-story bistro has more than 90 wines available by the glass (6 to 14 euros) and one of the hottest singles scenes in town. Draped in wrap dresses, cashmere sweaters and stone-washed jeans, Dublin’s fresh-faced professionals pack the dining room, cellar bars and a romantic, street-level lounge with an onyx bar and a stone fireplace. A family farm in County Clare supplies the restaurant with organic meat for dishes like lamb burger on creamed potatoes (15.95 euros) and bangers and mash (15 euros).

9 p.m.

Dublin’s younger, cosmopolitan set heads to the Village Venue (26 Wexford Street, 353-1-475-8555; The 650-seat hall features top acts like Tony Bennett and Morrissey (tickets around 25 euros), and the two-level space with stone interiors turns into a popular lounge and nightclub in the late evening. Expect women in short skirts and lads in button-down shirts. Established D.J.’s like John and Aoife Dermody spin techno, rock and pop music at 10 p.m. in the downstairs bar, and the dance floor opens at 11 p.m. (cover charge 7 to 10 euros).


11 a.m.

Walk off last night at Iveagh Gardens (Clonmel Street; 353-1-475-7816), an 8.5-acre gem of a park hidden behind the National Concert Hall near St. Stephen’s Square. With its beheaded and broken statues, unkempt landscaping and leaf-canopied corners, the rambling park feels like a former starlet past her prime, though she springs to life every April, when the bluebells are in full bloom.

1 p.m.

Sample the city’s sweet side at Queen of Tarts (4 Corkhill Dame Street, 353-1-670-7499), a darling confectionery in Dublin’s quiet medieval area. The glass display cases overflow with nectar-oozing plum tarts, savory scones and warm chocolate ganache cake (1.25 to 4.75 euros). And after a weekend of pints, a spot of tea goes down nicely.


Continental flies direct to Dublin from the New York City area, starting at about $650. Aer Lingus flies from New York to Dublin, with a short stopover in Shannon, starting at $358. If you’re already in London, Ryanair operates as many as 30 daily flights to Dublin for about 25 euros round trip, or $34, at $1.36 to the euro, not including taxes and fees.

From Dublin Airport, a taxi ride into the city costs 20 to 35 euros. Dublin Bus (353-1-873-4222; offers 35-minute rides into town every 10 minutes for 6 euros. Traffic in Dublin is hellish, and cabs are expensive, so it’s best to walk.

With its hip clientele and sunken lounge area, Number 31 (31 Lesson Close, 353-1-676-5011; is a B&B that feels more like a boutique hotel. Fresh from a major renovation, the Georgian town house and adjoining coach house has 21 rooms, 8 of them very large. Rooms start at 160 euros and include a full Irish breakfast.

Harrington Hall (70 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2, 353-1-475-3497; is a 28-room guesthouse in a refurbished Georgian town house near St. Stephen’s Green. All rooms have high-speed Internet connections and trouser presses. Rates begin at 120 euros and include a full breakfast.

Virginia Tech Struggles

Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

Students and faculty members in the thousands paused at the center of campus to honor the victims of last week’s rampage

April 24, 2007

Virginia Tech Struggles to Return to Normal

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 23 — For the most part, the campus of Virginia Tech looked like any other on Monday, a week after the nation’s worst mass shooting. Students, laden with overstuffed book bags, shuffled across the sidewalks and greens, cradling cups of coffee and bottles of water. Books were open on desks, and chalk scratched across boards.

But the resemblance to other universities was entirely superficial. On its first day of classes after the shooting that left 33 dead and 24 injured, the campus was still struggling to decide how to resume a semblance of a normal life.

For one thing, only three-quarters of the student body had returned to classrooms. The others remained reluctant to come back or had taken advantage of the university’s offer to take the rest of the semester off. Many of those who returned refused to talk to the remaining reporters, hoping to give the university a chance to escape the echoes of the killings.

In addition, some departments simply could not open their doors and begin teaching again. Norris Hall, the engineering building that was the site of 30 of the 32 killings, has been taped off by the police, and Ishwar K. Puri, chairman of the department of engineering, science and mechanics, said he was trying to find out whether it would be demolished and what could be salvaged.

“In many cases, our faculty and students do not have access to their scientific data, their notes, their personal libraries, their experimental equipment or a lifetime worth of results,” Professor Puri said of Norris Hall, which holds the laboratories where many of his 80 doctoral students and 25 master’s students work. “Imagine going to work and finding no workplace and no records.”

The students whose teachers were among the five engineering and language faculty members killed were reassigned to other classes Monday.

Dr. Puri said that since his students were blocked from their research and lacked some of the professors they needed, some of them might have to delay finishing their dissertations. That, in turn, could mean an end to their grant money.

The police have pulled from the university’s servers all of the e-mail of the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, as well as that of Emily J. Hilscher, a police spokeswoman confirmed Monday. Ms. Hilscher was one of the first two students killed, in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory.

The spokeswoman, Corinne N. Geller, said the police were still analyzing that information as well as cellphone records and computers. “We have not been able to make a definite link between Cho and Ms. Hilscher,” Ms. Geller said, “but we are still processing all that information.”

Another law enforcement official said it appeared that Mr. Cho had not attended any classes in the month since his parents dropped him off on campus after Easter break. The official said Mr. Cho appeared to have used that time to buy supplies and make other preparations for the shootings.

The authorities also confirmed Monday that Mr. Cho had fired all the shots, officially ruling out the possibility of a second gunman.

The burden of finding alternative locations for the classes that had been held at Norris Hall fell largely on the registrar’s office, which tried to match students and classes with available space in other buildings.

“They had to pull up all the data,” said Mark Owczarski, the university’s director of news and information. “You’re dealing with several dozen faculty offices in Norris Hall and several hundred students. They identified all the affected individuals, contacted them all and found new locations for all the classes.”

Rooms in the more than 100 campus buildings appropriate for lectures were used for the relocated classes. In addition, Mr. Owczarski said, several classes were moved to a nearby corporate research park used by start-up companies.

During meetings last week, professors questioned whether a week was enough time to allow students to stay away. University officials decided that canceling the rest of the academic year was an extreme step and that many students might find returning to campus therapeutic. In the end, Virginia Tech officials asked professors to set aside time to discuss the violent events before moving on to regular course work.

In one freshman chemistry class, which had attendance above 80 percent, a university T-shirt and a bouquet of flowers were placed on a seat to signify a member of the class who had been killed, said Joe Merola, the chemistry department chairman.

“I lost it halfway through class,” Dr. Merola said. “I burst into tears and had to turn it over to the counselors.”

After a lengthy discussion of the shootings and the victims, and how to finish out the semester, the class was eventually able to move on to chemistry, he said.

The campus paused momentarily at 9:45 a.m. on the drillfield, the center of campus life, as a single bell tolled exactly a week after the shootings. A minute later, the bell rang 32 more times as a white balloon was released with each toll.

Some students carried bouquets to lay at the impromptu memorials scattered across campus. Three police officers stood, hands on their gun belts, in front of Norris Hall.

Akash Patel, a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering, who was back on campus after spending the weekend with friends in Northern Virginia, said the university had been very accommodating. “But I’m stuck here, actually,” he said.

Mr. Patel explained that he had decided to finish his classes largely because he had already bought a nonrefundable plane ticket back home to Fremont, Calif., in May.

Other students said they were still figuring out whether to stay.

Xiaomo Liu, a graduate student in computer science from China, said that since he was working with two other students on a research project, he would have to come to a shared decision about stopping the project now or forging ahead with the research.

“If it is anything like last week, we will not be able to focus,” he said. “We will meet and decide whether to take the grade or not. But I am not even sure if we will be able to do that. One group member went to New Hampshire.”

Karan Grewal, 21, a former suitemate of Mr. Cho, said he had decided to finish classes to avoid ending his college career on such a grim note. But Mr. Grewal said he still did not feel comfortable being near Norris Hall.

“It’s just too sad,” he said.

Nikolas Macko, who joined other students in barricading a door to prevent Mr. Cho from entering their Norris Hall classroom during his killing spree, said he was not apprehensive about returning to the building.

“It was a random event, and I’m hopeful that it was independent and isolated,” Mr. Macko said. “For me, that’s the only way we can move forward.”

Sarah Abruzzese contributed reporting from Blacksburg, and William K. Rashbaum from New York.


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