Last week this blog was hacked, not once but twice. While writing my previous post, I noticed that everything was very, very slow, yet everything else on my computer was fine. When I went to look at the blog itself, it redirected to a Russian female body builder site. Interestingly enough, though the url was clear, I got a 404 error, so they couldn’t even redirect properly. I ran the Exploit Scanner and found that I had been hacked by the Base64 hack. I cleaned it out and then did many of the things you are meant to do to harden and secure WordPress. The next day it was back. I am on Dreamhost and many users, particularly newbies, blamed Dreamhost. However, it is fairly clear that Dreamhost is not to blame. The terms of service make it clear that it is your responsibility as site administrator to watch out for hacks and the like. Most (though not all) of the sites affected were WordPress sites but it is also clear that WordPress was not to blame as WordPress itself is free of security leaks. It seems also clear that the problem lies with plug-ins, themes and other user uploads. It is this that I cleared out, removing all themes that I was not using as well as several of the plug-ins and other junk. Since then, though I check daily, I have had no problems. So if you go to someone’s blog or WordPress site and you are directed to a Russian porn site, they have been hacked and you should let them know. If you run a WordPress site, check, troubleshoot, where necessary, repair and harden.
The English have something of a reputation for being eccentric. Dame Edith Sitwell famously wrote a book on the topic and there seems to be a more modern one as well. There is also an interesting anthology of eccentrics, which links them with villains, which, of course, they sometimes are. Eccentricity is by no means limited to the English, particularly where writers are concerned. The French, for example, have Proust with his long lie-in writing his novel or Céline with his Nazism or, indeed, more recently, Houellebecq and his strange and often impetuous behaviour. But, in this post, I want to discuss one English eccentric.
I first read Hadrian VII many years ago but have just reread it for my website. It was written by a man who was christened Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe, though he used many pseudonyms during his life, most famously Baron Corvo, allegedly given to him when he was supported by the Duchess Sforza-Cesarini. His father’s family had manufactured pianos at one time but, by the time young Rolfe was born, business had gone down and they were now merely agents for the manufacturer. Rolfe attended school till he was fourteen but then left, not least because he did not fit in. He became a teacher but when, at the age of twenty-six, he converted to Roman Catholicism, he felt that he had a vocation as a priest and enrolled in a seminary. He did not fit in there so he went to a seminary in Rome. He was expelled from there because he also did not fit in. It has been suggested by Pamela Hansford-Johnson, in her introduction to the excellent collection of biographical essays on Rolfe, edited by Cecil Woolf called New Quests for Corvo, that he wanted less to be priest than to be Pope. Hadrian VII, of course, confirms this.
Like his fictional pope, Rolfe finally had to earn his living first by painting and then by writing. Much of his work is about the attacks he thought others had made on him and his literary attempts to redress these. One of many is his attack on Father Beauclerk over the painting of banners. This and other slights will appear in Hadrian VII. These were not his only themes. He was gay and homoeroticism certainly appears in his work. Premature burial also appeared in several of his works. Rolfe spent the last years of his life in Venice, where he died, aged fifty-five. He never made much of a living from either his painting or his writing, and lived, to a great extent, by scrounging off friends. After his death, his reputation diminished but, in more recent years, his reputation has risen, not least because he is an excellent writer and, though his work is certainly eccentric, his eccentricity adds to the the fascination of works such as Hadrian VII.
I have recently read Ismail Kadare‘s Spiritus. It is the twenty-second of his novels that I have read and, I suspect, the most novels I have read by the same author as an adult. As a child/teenager, I undoubtedly read more Biggles novels but that was a long time ago and I very much doubt if I have read twenty-two books by the same author since. The question is why?
There are a couple of problems with Kadare. Of course, he writes in Albanian. His books are generally translated into French and then translated from the French, usually by David Bellos, author of the fascinating Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, a book about translation and meaning, with its title taken, of course, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams who…, no, this is going to end up in a never-ending Hitchhiker’s Guide type chain. What this means is that if you read him in English, you are reading a double translation and, however good a translator Bellos is, and he is a very good translator, you will lose something. However, as Salman Rushdie sensibly remarked about Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years Of Solitude), it is far better to read it in translation than not at all. Indeed, it is far better to read Kadare in double translation than not at all. I am fortunate enough to be able to read French so I can and do read Kadare in French. This has another advantage. Of the twenty-two books of his that I have read, eight have not been translated into English, I know not why, though some have been translated into other languages, for example Spiritus.
The second problem is that he has been accused of having been too cosy with the Hoxha regime. Both were born in Gjirokastër, though Hoxha was twenty-eight years older. However, it is very easy to condemn him for this. I wonder how many of us, from Western Europe and North America, would have resisted the Hoxha or other oppressive regimes. Not too many, I think. I very much doubt if I would have done it openly though I would like to think that I would have done it behind closed doors. The idea of being tortured and killed or even denied any job is not one that would have appealed to me and I can only admire those dissidents, such as Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov or, indeed, those currently opposed to Assad in Syria, and be grateful that I do not have to face what they have faced. In short, some may condemn him. I do not.
A glance at my website will see that I have a fascination for the exotic and it is certainly that that attracted me to Kadare. But Kadare is not just exotic, though Albania is probably as exotic as you can get in Europe, from the Western Europe perspective. He superbly mixes in history, myth, fantasy and realism so that you are never quite sure what, from the story’s point of view, is real or not and the answer, of course, is that it is all real and none of it is real. And the legends and stories that he tells are suitably alien from the Western European tradition to make them seem more exotic than, say, other, more familiar legends of bandits such as Robin Hood or brave kings such as King Arthur. Kadare is also a superb writer. His Dimri i madh [The Great Winter] which, sadly, has not been translated into English, is, on the face of it, a conventional story about the break-up of relations between Albania and the Soviet Union. The usual interjection of legend is limited, though we do get some of the earlier history of Albania, one of Kadare’s trademarks, but the book is, nevertheless, a superb book, so well written and gripping, that it remains one of his best works yet without his usual style. But it is the legends, the otherworldliness, the outsiders, bandits, if you will, struggling, often ferociously, to remain fiercely independent that are his trademark and which appear in all of his best work.
Why is he not better known in the English-speaking world? He is, of course, fairly well known. Amazon US shows around a dozen of his books available in print, with a couple more in Kindle, while Amazon UK has one or two more. The very wonderful Canongate will be bringing out this summer The Fall of the Stone City, a translation of Darka e gabuar, only three years after the French edition, while a new edition of Doruntine came out eighteen months ago with the new title of The Ghost Rider. However, despite Canongate’s The much anticipated new novel, I doubt if The Fall of the Stone City is much anticipated by all that many people.
Kadare should, in my view, be a perennial Nobel Prize candidate and, while his name does get mentioned, he is never up there in the betting with the Philip Roths and that Korean poet. Kadare is still alive and there are still a few of his fiction works available in French which I have not read, so I will top twenty-two. And one day I hope to go to Albania myself to see the rugged scenery, the bandits and the living legends for myself.