Brave new world
Aldous Huxley, William Shakespeare, the south of France, Venmo, the panic of 1893, and 7 other things worth your time.
There’s a small town in the south of France called Sanary-sur-Mer. I’ve never been there. It looks awfully nice on TripAdvisor.
Come to think of it, almost everything looks nice on TripAdvisor after being confined to my house for nearly a month. (Photo above. I love the blue.)
Anyway, the British author Aldous Huxley bought a house in Sansay-sur-Mer in 1930. During a burst of three or four months of intense, isolated work there, he produced what has to be his most famous novel, Brave New World.
I’m not sure I’d have made this connection two months ago, but it sounds like it was almost a self-imposed quarantine—a writer’s retreat for one.
I learned about Huxley’s writing environment after also reading that William Shakespeare might well have written both Macbeth and King Lear, while quarantined in London during an outbreak in 1606.
It seems there’s some controversy over whether you could take that to the bank, but if it’s untrue it’s a widely believed untruth anyway.
Regardless, Huxley took the title of Brave New World from this exchange in another Shakespearean play, The Tempest:
MIRANDA: O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
PROSPERO: 'Tis new to thee.
Admission: I’d misremembered that quote until today, thinking it was from King Lear, which would have made this quarantine-to-quarantine rumor even more poignant.
But I still think it works for our purposes.
How to put this… I don’t know about you, but I’ve basically gone through an accelerated version of Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief lately, when it comes to concern over the future of my work, my business, and my ability to provide for my family, due to —well, you know—pandemic, quarantine, economy.
I went from “shock and denial” to “anger/bargaining,” and finally (I think) to “acceptance and hope,” all pretty quickly in retrospect.
Part of what’s giving me hope now is just thinking about some of the great works that have come out of times like these—to say nothing of the great and successful companies that got started in other difficult eras.
Out of the Great Recession: WhatsApp, Venmo, Instagram, Uber, Pinterest, and Slack, among others.
Go back earlier, and you’ll find GE (founded at the cusp of the Panic of 1893), Disney (1929, so just barely before the Great Depression), and Microsoft, (1975, at the height of hyperinflation).
And, Sir Isaac Newton spent most of 1665, when he was 22 and England was enduring the last big outbreak of the bubonic plague, sequestered away from Cambridge and at his parent’s estate.
While there he worked out his theory of gravity and made some other big advances that I’m just going to be honest, I don’t have the math background to understand.
Still, lemonade from lemons. And hope from Huxley, Shakespeare and all the rest.
It’s actually not new at all. But maybe, ‘tis new to us.
7 other things worth your time
These “united states” (lowercase). NY, NJ, DE, PA, CT, RI and MA have teamed up to decide when they’ll reopen. Separately, California, Oregon and Washington are creating a similar task force. (Politico)
Un autre mois: France will be on lockdown at least into May. (The Guardian)
Puzzling: Woman who says she last left her house three weeks ago still somehow became infected with Covid-19. (WCNC)
A close friend of President Trump’s died as a result of Covid-19. (NBC News)
The Supreme Court will broadcast live audio of oral arguments in six cases during May, including one about whether congress and the district attorney in Manhattan can subpoena President Trump’s tax returns. (Reuters)
Some college students are demanding refunds since they’re now attending class online—not the in-person experience they paid for. (The Wall Street Journal, $)
With fewer people out and restaurants closed, starving rats are reportedly resorting to cannibalism in New York. (New York Post)
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