Friday, 29 May 2015

To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough (or, Tae a Moose) by Robert Burns.

Robert Burns' turning up in her nest with a plough.
To a Mouse is a particularly sad and poignant poem written by Robert Burns in 1785 and first published 1786 in Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which is also known as the Kilmarnock Volume.

I'll begin with the poem itself:
Wee, sleekit, cowran, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
I'm truly sorry Man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen-icker in a thrave 'S a sma' request:
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' wast,
An' weary Winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.
That wee-bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald.
To thole the Winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!
But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But Och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
These first lines I know by heart -
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering pattle.
Our little mouse's home has, in short, been turned up by the plough (the "murdering pattle") and she runs away from the farmer who turned the nest up, shouting like frightened little animals do, with her "bickering brattle". The farmer, in the second verse, expresses his sorrow that her home is destroyed, and that mankind is not only responsible for ruining her nest and other nests and homes of little creatures, and that it is these actions that justify animals' fear of humans - 
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal!
It is, as Burns suggests, ultimately unnatural - our dominance has made some people forget that animals have as much right on earth as we do, and we are but their "earth born companion". He goes on to acknowledge the differences in moral outlook of humans and animals, though this perception is mankind's own - animals, they would argue, may thieve, but this is not done out of badness, it is done for survival:
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't.
Commemorative stamp from 1996. 
This "theft", as Burns writes, makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. We must share. This, I dare say, has wider implications and does not simply apply to the animal world but to all helpless creatures, human or otherwise.

He returns to the mouse, expressing his sympathy at the hopelessness the mouse may feel. Her home that she worked so hard to make is gone, and it is December, cold and windy:
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen! 
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell. 
That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld.
Burns then says, in an often quoted line, that this is what it is to be alive and he shares, in some respects, the little mouse's upset and disappointment:
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
And it is, of course, the line "o' mice an' men" that was used for the title of John Steinbeck's 1937 novel Of Mice and Men.  

The poem concludes on a bleak note. The mouse lives only in the present - she is lucky - she is not tormented by the past or in fear of what the future may bring:
Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
I love this poem very much, it's actually very dear to me. I love that, in this small way, this momentous occasion for the poor mouse has been immortalised, never to be forgotten, and the simple message that our quest to dominate brings with it responsibility that ought never to be forgotten.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Wives and Daughters: An Every-Day Story is Elizabeth Gaskell's final novel, which was published first in The Cornhill Magazine from August 1864 to January 1866, then in book form in 1866. It is unfinished: on the 12th November 1865 Elizabeth Gaskell sadly died of a heart attack, and so Wives and Daughters ends abruptly without conclusion. Volume XIII of the magazine (you can read that online here), which published the final instalment, has as a conclusion a piece by Frederick Greenwood, the then joint-editor of the magazine with George Henry Lewes (George Eliot's partner). In this he pays tribute to Elizabeth Gaskell and attempts to conclude the work, either from details that he knew and was told by Gaskell, or educated guess work.

However sudden the end of the novel may be, I still loved Wives and Daughters, and it is one of the best books I've read so far this year. It tells the story of Molly Gibson, the daughter of a widowed doctor. It's set in Hollingford, Cheshire and begins, oddly enough, with a paragraph somewhat reminiscent of James Joyce's opening to A Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man (1916):
To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen power in the next room - a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not be disturbed until six o'clock struck, when she wakened of herself 'as sure as clockwork' and left the household very little peace afterwards. It was a June morning, and early as it was, the room was full of sunny warmth and light.
It is the morning of the Gala Day at the 'great house' of Lord and Lady Cumnor. Feeling unwell, Molly gets separated from the party and Mrs. Kirkpatrick, the once governess to Lord and Lady's Cumnor's children, puts Molly to bed for a short while to rest, and assures her that she will be woken up in time to get a carriage home. However, Molly is forgotten about and left behind until her father later collects her.

From there, the novel skips forward very quickly, and we see Molly as a very young woman. When it discovered she is the love interest of a young Mr. Coxe, she is sent to stay with another family, the aristocratic Hamleys who have two sons: Osborne, once deemed 'the success' and Roger, who is not thought to do so well as his elder brother. During Molly's stay with the Hamleys, her father, believing it would be great advantage to Molly to have a mother, decides to remarry. Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who accidentally left Molly sleeping that day of the Gala, is to be his new wife. She is a good match for Mr. Gibson, he believes, as he says: "She keeps a school now at Ashcombe, and is accustomed to house-keeping. She has brought up the young ladies at the Towers, and has a daughter of her own, therefore it is probable she will have a kind, motherly feeling towards Molly". As this marriage is settled upon, there is another incident: Molly learns that the great Osborne has secretly married a woman he loves, but who will never have his father's approval.

This is the basis for Wives and Daughters, and what follows are the repercussions: Molly learning to live with her new stepmother, who is rather pretentious and not terribly intelligent, at least emotionally. We also meet her daughter Cynthia, and she and Molly become close. Cynthia is worldly and glamorous, and she has led a rather unfortunately complicated life for her young age. We see the 'fall' of Osborne and the emotional and intellectual growth of Roger, and, as with my favourite Victorian novels, there is a love triangle between Roger, Cynthia, and Molly.

It is a very warm and engaging book, and as the subtitle suggests - "An Every-Day Story", there is no sensationalism. It is a realistic, straightforward, and very warm portrayal of country life during the later days of the reign of William IV (1830s). Gaskell's characterisation, particularly with Molly Gibson, is an absolute masterpiece. We see her development from a young, impetuous girl with a short temper to a young woman, frequently tested and still trying to live her life in way a young woman of that period should. She is not idealised; she is as real and as human as a fictional character can possibly be, and I've discovered in Wives and Daughters one of my most favourite literary heroines.

The 'let down' of the novel, if it can be called that, is it's sudden ending; an inconsequential discussion about a shawl. But, as I mentioned, there is an attempt by Greenwood to 'finish off' the novel.

From The Cornhill Magazine, vol. XII, January - June 1866: The first paragraph of Greenwood's ending.

To Greenwood I am grateful; there is enough detail to be relatively satisfactory, but not so much as it imposes or distracts from Elizabeth Gaskell. I know some of you dislike reading unfinished works, but I would suggest this is very much worth the effort.

To conclude, some illustrations. These are by George du Maurier (the author of Trilby, 1894, and grandfather of Daphne du Maurier) and are from the 1866 edition, published by Smith, Elder &co.

Further Reading

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ancient Greek and Roman Challenge.

I wrote in my last post that having finished the Penguin English Library I wanted to begin a new challenge, something heavy on the Ancient Greek and Romans. So, I've put this together: a list of 108 Ancient Greek or Roman works. As far as I could see, there are no existing lists, so I've used a variety of sources to make this up: 15 best classic books of all time from The Telegraph, 10 Ancient Greek Writers You Should Know from ListVerse, and the website Ancient Literature. I've also had a look at some other blogs and their Classics Club list (for example Fanda's Classic Club List and Cleo's Classics Club List as these two don't tend to shy away from the heavy stuff!), and the review list on The Classics Club. Of all these lists, I've read 17 of the works, but I do want to revisit and write about most of them. So, my big number is 3 so far - 3 read and reviewed. 

As I said, I do want to get this to 100 (that goal is now met!), and I'm also very much a beginner, so I would welcome suggestions for 'must-read' Ancient Greek and Roman works. I know there's a wealth of ancient literature out there that is neither Greek nor Roman, but for now, for this, I'm keeping it simple. 

Here's the list (and wish me luck!): 
3 / 115

8th Century B.C.

  • Hesiod (Ἡσίοδος)
    • Works and Days (Ἔργα καὶ Ἡμέραι)
    • Theogony (Θεογονία)
  • Homer (Ὅμηρος)
    • The Iliad (Ἰλιάς)
    • The Odyssey (Ὀδύσσεια)

7th Century B.C.

  • Aesop (Αἴσωπος)
    • Aesop's Fables (Μῦθοι Αἰσώπειοι)

6th Century B.C.

  • Sappho (Σαπφώ)
    • Poems

5th Century B.C.

  • Aeschylus (Αἰσχύλος)
    • The Oresteia (Ὀρέστεια)
      • Agamemnon (Ἀγαμέμνων)
      • The Libation Bearers (Χοηφόροι)
      • The Eumenides (Εὐμενίδες)
    • Prometheus Bound (Προμηθεὺς Δεσμώτης)
  • Aristophanes (Ἀριστοφάνης)
    • The Wasps (Σφῆκες)
    • The Clouds (Νεφέλαι)
    • The Birds (Ὄρνιθες)
    • Lysistrata (Λυσιστράτη)
    • The Poet and the Woman (Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι)
    • The Frogs (Βάτραχοι)
    • The Acharnians (Ἀχαρνεῖς)
    • The Knights (Ἱππεῖς)
    • Peace (Εἰρήνη)
  • Euripides (Εὐριπίδης)
    • Alcestis (Ἄλκηστις)
    • The Bacchantes (Βάκχαι)
    • Children of Heracles (Ἡρακλεῖδαι)
    • Cyclops (Κύκλωψ)
    • Hecuba (Ἑκάβη)
    • Helen (Ἑλένη)
    • Hippolytus (Ἱππόλυτος)
    • Iphigenia at Aulis (Ἰφιγένεια ἐν Αὐλίδι)
    • Medea (Μήδεια)
    • Orestes (Ὀρέστης)
    • Rhesus (Ῥῆσος)
    • The Trojan Women (Τρῳάδες)
  • Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος)
    • The Histories (Ἱστορίαι)
  • Pindar (Πίνδαρος)
    • Odes
  • Sophocles (Σοφοκλῆς)
    • Ajax (Αἴας)
    • Antigone (Ἀντιγόνη)
    • The Women of Trachis (Τραχίνιαι)
    • Oedipus the King (Οἰδίπους Τύραννος)
    • Oedipus at Colonus (Οἰδίπους ἐπὶ Κολωνῷ)
    • Electra (Ἠλέκτρα)
    • Philoctetes (Φιλοκτήτης)
  • Thucydides (Θουκυδίδης)
    • History of the Peloponnesian War (Historiae)

4th Century B.C.

  • Aristophanes (Ἀριστοφάνης)
    • The Assemblywomen (Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι)
    •  Wealth (Πλοῦτος)
  • Aristotle (Ἀριστοτέλης)
    • Ethics
    • Parva Naturalia 
    • Poetics (Περὶ ποιητικῆς)
    • The Politics (Πολιτικά)
  • Menander (Μένανδρος)
    • Dyskolos (Δύσκολος)
  • Plato (Πλάτων)
    • Gorgias (Γοργίας)
    • Last Days of Socrates
      • Euthyphro (Εὐθύφρων)
      • The Apology (Ἀπολογία)
      • Crito (Κρίτων)
      • Phaedo (Φαίδων)
    • Meno (Μένων)
    • Phaedrus (Φαῖδρος)
    • Protagorus (Πρωταγόρας)
    • The Republic (Πολιτεία)
    • The Symposium (Συμπόσιον)
  • Xenophon (Ξενοφῶν)
    • Anabasis (Ἀνάβασις)
    • Hellenica (Ἑλληνικά)
    • The Symposium (Συμπόσιον)

3rd Century B.C.

  • Apollonius of Rhodes (Απολλώνιος Ρόδιος)
    • Jason and the Golden Fleece (Ἀργοναυτικά)
  • Callimachus (Καλλίμαχος)
    • Hymns
  • Theocritus (Θεόκριτος)
    • Idylls 

2nd Century B.C.

  • Plautus (Titus Maccius Plautus)
    • The Brothers Menaechmus (Menaechmi)
    • The Pot of Gold (Aulularia)
    • The Prisoners (Captivi)
    • Pseudolus
    • The Swaggering Soldier (Miles Gloriosus)
  • Terence (Publius Terentius Afer)
    • The Brothers (Adelphoe)
    • The Eunuch (Eunuchus)
    • The Girl from Andros (Andria)
    • The Mother in Law (Hecyra)
    • Phormio
    • The Self-Tormentor (Heauton Timorumenos)

1st Century B.C.

  • Catullus (Gaius Valerius Catullus)
    • Poems
  • Julius Caesar (Gaius Julius Caesar)
    • The Gallic War (Commentarii de Bello Gallico)
  • Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus)
    • The Art of Poetry (Ars Poetica)
    • Odes (Carmina)
    • Satires (Satirae)
  • Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus)
    • On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura)
  • Propertius (Sextus Propertius)
    • Elegies (Elegiae)
  • Tibullus (Albius Tibullus)
    • Selected Works
  • Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro)
    • Aeneid (Aenēis)
    • The Georgics (Georgica)
    • The Eclogues (Eclogae)

1st Century A.D.

  • Augustus (Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus)
    • The Deeds of the Divine Augustus (Res Gestae Divi Augusti)
  • Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero)
    • Selected Works
  • Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis)
    • The Satires
  • Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus)
    • A History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita Libri)
  • Lucan (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus)
    • The Civil War (The Pharsalia)
  • Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso)
    • Amores
    • The Art of Love (Ars amatoria)
    • Metamorphoses (Metamorphōseōn librī)
  • Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus)
    • Satires
  • Petronius (Gaius Petronius Arbiter)
    • The Satyricon
  • Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus)
    • Letters (Epistulae)
  • Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)
    • The Gourdification of (the Divine) Claudius (Apocolocyntosis (divi) Claudii)
    • Letters from a Stoic
    • Medea
    • Trojan Women (Troades)
  • Statius (Publius Papinius Statius)
    • Thebaid (Thebais)
  • Tacitus (Publius Cornelius Tacitus)
    • Selected Works

2nd Century A.D.

  • Apuleius (Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis)
    • The Golden Ass (Asinus aureus)
  • Marcus Aurelius (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus)
    • Meditations (Ta eis heauton)
  • Longus (Λόγγος)
  • Lucian of Samosata (Λουκιανὸς ὁ Σαμοσατεύς)
    • Collected Works
  • Plutarch (Πλούταρχος / Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus)
    • Essays
    • Parallel Lives (Βίοι Παράλληλοι)
  • Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus)
    • Lives of the Poets (De Poetis)
    • Twelve Caesars (De vita Caesarum)

3rd Century A.D.

  • Apollodorus' Library (Βιβλιοθήκη)
  • Longinus (Λογγῖνος)
    • On the Sublime (Περὶ ὕψους)

4th Century A.D.

  • St. Augustine of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis)
    • City of God (De Civitate Dei)
    • The Confessions (Confessiones)

Monday, 25 May 2015

Completed Challenge: The Penguin English Library.

On the 7th April 2013 I started my 'Penguin English Library Challenge'. The goal, of course, was to read all of the 100 titles, and I started having already read about 50 or so (I'm afraid I didn't write down exactly how many, which is unfortunate!). Yesterday, when I finished Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell I completed this challenge!

Here's the list of books I've read, which I've put into alphabetical order for ease:
  1. Emma by Jane Austen 
  2. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  4. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 
  6. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  7. Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon 
  8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  10. Shirley by Charlotte Brontë 
  11. Villette by Charlotte Brontë
  12. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë 
  13. Evelina by Fanny Burney
  14. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
  15. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  16. The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton 
  17. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  18. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  19. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  20. The Five Orange Pips and Other Cases by Arthur Conan Doyle
  21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 
  22. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad 
  23. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
  24. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
  25. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe 
  26. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 
  27. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
  28. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  29. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  30. Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens 
  31. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  32. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  33. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  34. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens 
  35. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
  36. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  37. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
  38. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  39. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens 
  40. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  41. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  42. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot 
  43. Middlemarch by George Eliot 
  44. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  45. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  46. Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding 
  47. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  48. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
  49. Howards End by E.M. Forster
  50. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster 
  51. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  52. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  53. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  54. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  55. New Grub Street by George R. Gissing
  56. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy 
  57. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy 
  58. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy 
  59. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  60. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  61. Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
  62. Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
  63. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  64. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg 
  65. Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James 
  66. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James 
  67. Washington Square by Henry James
  68. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
  69. Dubliners by James Joyce 
  70. Kim by Rudyard Kipling 
  71. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  72. The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis 
  73. Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin 
  74. The Confidence-Man and Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
  75. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  76. The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
  77. Pamela by Samuel Richardson
  78. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
  79. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  80. Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett
  81. The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne 
  82. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  83. Treasure Island and The Ebb-Tide by Robert Louis Stevenson
  84. Dracula by Bram Stoker 
  85. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift 
  86. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  87. The Warden by Anthony Trollope 
  88. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  89. Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
  90. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  91. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
  92. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
  93. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  94. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
  95. The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells 
  96. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  97. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  98. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton 
  99. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton 
  100. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
It's been a good challenge! Through this I first discovered H.G. Wells and Wilkie Collins, read all of the novels of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen (which I intend to revisit), and found that I cannot abide Joseph Conrad (apologies to the Conrad fans reading). My only regret is that I didn't blog about all of these, but nevertheless it's been a good and fun challenge, and I have a nice sense of accomplishment now!

So there it is. What next is the question! I've been thinking about this for a month or so as I can closer to finishing, and I'm thinking about something a bit different. I do like these "books you must read" lists, but I'm too aware now of their biases. and indeed my own, so with that in mind I'm going to spend my bank holiday putting together a book list of my own. I'm thinking something heavy on the ancients....

Friday, 22 May 2015

Rentafoil by Émile Zola.

Portrait of Émile Zola by Edouard Manet (1868)
Rentafoil (Les Repoussoirs, known also as The Contrasts) is a short story by Émile Zola published within Sketches of Paris (Esquisses Parisiennes) in 1866, which also contains The Boot-Polishing Virgin (La Vierge au cirage), The Old Woman with the Blue Eyes (Les vieilles aux yeux bleus), and Love Under the Roof (L’Amour sous les toits).

The story opens,
In Paris, everything's for sale: wise virgins, foolish virgins, truth and lies, tears and smiles. 
You must certainly be aware that in such a commercially-minded place, beauty is a commodity and the object of an obnoxious trade. People buy and sell big bright eyes and charming little mouths; noses and chins are all quoted at the exact valuation. A particular dimple or beauty spot can command a steady income. And since there's always fraud somewhere or other, at times you have to copy nature's handiwork, so that eyebrows drawn with burnt match ends, and false hairpieces fetch better prices than the real article.
It is, as with the bulk of Zola's work, a satire and critique of the Second Empire (1852 - 1870) under the rule of Napoleon III. Though there are fictional characters, Rentafoil is not so much a story as a sketch, perhaps like those in Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens (1836) - an exaggerated description of an aspect of Parisian life (as the title Esquisses Parisiennes suggests) towards the very end of the Second Empire. Beauty, as Zola writes in the introduction, may be bought and sold. Sex, as we know from Nana (1880) may likewise be bought and sold. Such is the ethos of the Second Empire, everything has a price - the city, Paris, the whole of France even, is ruled by capitalists. If that is the case, why not sell ugliness?

This is the business of old Durandeau, "a multi-millionaire who has succeeded in turning business into an art". He first writes an advert - "Ugly girls required. Undemanding work" but gets no where with it, so he employs agents "to scour the city in search of female monstrosities". Once he has his collection of the ugly women of Paris he opens an agency, and here begins the business; the rent-a-foil. Writing in the prospectus:
Madam, I have the pleasure and privilege of providing your lovely countenance with the richest collection of ugly faces to be found anywhere. Tattered rags emphasise the chic of new clothes: my ugly faces bring out the full charm of pretty ones.
His business is an immediate success. "You can't imagine the pleasure of a pretty woman leaning on the arm of an ugly one. Not only was she enhancing her own beauty, she was enjoying someone else's ugliness. Durandeau is a great philosopher."

Of course this does nothing for the self-esteem of the foil, and there are many a heart-rendering tales. But no matter, money, beauty, and the perception of beauty are what is truly important in the Second Empire.

It is not the most pleasant of tales (which, to be fair, is the norm with Zola), and I spent most of this 8 page story feeling somewhat uncomfortable. Nevertheless it is very good as a satire; perceptive, cutting, and getting right on point. Zola's short stories are an amplified version of his novels, I've found. Over the top, but still keenly observed. I do like them!

Further reading

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung.

Here's a fun book - The Amateur Cracksman, or as it is also known, Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman. It's the first of the 'Raffles' series by Ernest William Horung (published in 1899) - others include The Black Mask (1901), A Thief in the Night (1905), and Mr. Justice Raffles (1909). With the exception of Mr. Justice Raffles, they are a collection of short stories, about twenty-one I believe. The first one has this dedication:
A.C.D. - his brother-in-law Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle, who is, of course, the author of the Sherlock Holmes books. In those, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson solve crimes. In The Amateur Cracksman and subsequent books, Arthur J, Raffles and Harry "Bunny" Manders cause them; that is to say, they are the criminals who, no doubt, Holmes and Watson would be tracking.

There are nine stories in this first volume: 
  • The Ides of March
  • A Costume Piece
  • Gentlemen and Players
  • Le Premier Pas
  • Wilful Murder
  • Nine Points of the Law
  • The Return Match
  • The Gift of the Emperor
The premise, characters, setting and whatnot are laid out in the first story, 'The Ides of March'. Bunny arrives in Raffles' London apartment in a state of panic and desperation:
It was half-past twelve when I returned to the Albany as a last desperate resort. The scene of my disaster was much as I had left it. The baccarat-counters still strewed the table, with the empty glasses and the loaded ash-trays. A window had been opened to let the smoke out, and was letting in the fog instead. Raffles himself had merely discarded his dining jacket for one of his innumerable blazers. Yet he arched his eyebrows as though I had dragged him from his bed.

"Forgotten something?" said he, when he saw me on his mat. 
"No," said I, pushing past him without ceremony. And I led the way into his room with an impudence amazing to myself. 
"Not come back for your revenge, have you? Because I'm afraid I can't give it to you single-handed. I was sorry myself that the others—" 
We were face to face by his fireside, and I cut him short. 
"Raffles," said I, "you may well be surprised at my coming back in this way and at this hour. I hardly know you. I was never in your rooms before to-night. But I fagged for you at school, and you said you remembered me. Of course that's no excuse; but will you listen to me—for two minutes?" 
In my emotion I had at first to struggle for every word; but his face reassured me as I went on, and I was not mistaken in its expression. 
"Certainly, my dear man," said he; "as many minutes as you like. Have a Sullivan and sit down." And he handed me his silver cigarette-case. 
"No," said I, finding a full voice as I shook my head; "no, I won't smoke, and I won't sit down, thank you. Nor will you ask me to do either when you've heard what I have to say." 
"Really?" said he, lighting his own cigarette with one clear blue eye upon me. "How do you know?" 
"Because you'll probably show me the door," I cried bitterly; "and you will be justified in doing it! But it's no use beating about the bush. You know I dropped over two hundred just now?" 
He nodded. 
"I hadn't the money in my pocket." 
"I remember." 
"But I had my cheque book, and I wrote each of you a cheque at that desk." 
"Not one of them was worth the paper it was written on, Raffles. I am overdrawn already at my bank!" 
"Surely only for the moment?" 
"No. I have spent everything."
In this it is all revealed - A. J. Raffles (likely to be modelled on George Cecil Ives, a cricketer and criminologist, also an early gay rights campaigner) is not quite the chap Bunny thought. This master cricketer, who plays for the Gentlemen of England, is also an expert burglar. Poor Bunny finds out, as his bad luck would have it, in the middle of a heist:
"A burglar!" I gasped. "You—you!"  
 "I told you I lived by my wits." 
But they stick together, and on that day, the 15th March, they "joined felonious forces". In this volume we see them rob a jewellery shop, another attempt to steal diamonds, and their first encounter with Inspector MacKenzie of Scotland Yard, as well as a retrospective chapter on Raffles' first crime (among other stories). It is fantastically gripping and great fun, and somehow the two are, perhaps not sympathetic characters, but they're certainly not hateful. On one crime Hornung writes,
"It seems rather a vulgar sort of theft," I could not help saying; and to this, my single protest, Raffles instantly assented.  
"It is a vulgar sort," said he; "but I can't help that. We're getting vulgarly hard up again, and there's an end on 't. Besides, these people deserve it, and can afford it..."
Does anyone deserve to have their diamonds robbed? I wouldn't like to say, but I did very much enjoy The Amateur Cracksman. As for Arthur Conan Doyle, I think he did too, praising Hornung's "fine artistic sense, and a remarkable power of vivid narrative... one could not find any better example of clever plot and terse admirable narrative". But, he did add the stories were "rather dangerous in their suggestion. I told him so before he put pen to paper, and the result has, I fear, borne me out. You must not make the criminal a hero".

Yet that is exactly what Raffles is - a criminal hero. I think arguing over the morality of it isn't really necessary. They're simply fun yarns that pass the time most happily. I'm looking forward to reading more of Raffles and his sidekick Bunny. And, on a side note, Raffles also inspired Viz magazine's Raffles the Gentleman Thug. I do like Viz, so here's a link to the comic strips. If you're not terribly keen on strong language do not click :)

From Viz.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Pictures from Italy by Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens by Stephen Humble (1844).
1883 edition of Pictures from Italy.
In 1844, having already published some of his major works - The Pickwick Papers (1837), Oliver Twist (1839), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1841), Barnaby Rudge (1841), A Christmas Carol (1843), and Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), Charles Dickens took a break from novel writing and began a tour of France and Italy, which is chronicled in his 1846 travelogue Pictures from Italy.

He begins by writing that this work is not intended to be a serious work on the history, religion, or government of Italy, rather, as he writes,
This Book is a series of faint reflections - mere shadows in the water - of places to which the imaginations of most people are attracted in a greater or less degree, on which mine had dwelt for years, and which have some interest for all. The greater part of the descriptions were written on the spot, and sent home, from time to time, in private letters. I do not mention the circumstance as an excuse for any defects they may present, for it would be none; but as a guarantee to the Reader that they were at least penned in the fulness of the subject, and with the liveliest impressions of novelty and freshness.  
If they have ever a fanciful and idle air, perhaps the reader will suppose them written in the shade of a Sunny Day, in the midst of the objects of which they treat, and will like them none the worse for having such influences of the country upon them.
1846 edition illustrated by Samuel Palmer.
What follows are a series of these reflections or sketches through France (Lyons, the Rhone, and Avignon) to Italy, visiting, among many other plaves, Geona, Parma, Bologna, Milan, Pisa, Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Pæstum, Vesuvius, and Florence. As promised, he writes of his own personal reflections - things he saw and experienced; places of literary interest - Boccaccio's house, Verona - the setting of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (he observed, "I read Romeo and Juliet in my own room at the inn that night - of course, no Englishman had ever read it there, before"), as well as visiting cathedrals, cafés, going on various walks in the cities and countryside and the like. He also writes of attending a beheading; one very gruesome part of Pictures from Italy. All in all, this personal account was insightful, but not greatly so. That said, it wasn't especially meant to be. I got the sense that it was more a collection of notes written up and published in book form; very exciting for the Dickens fan, less so for a lover of Italy, or, indeed, one seeking an introduction to Italy. This doesn't mean it's a lesser work, far from it, it's simply done from a different angle.

All in all, an interesting work, but not wholly enjoyable. I think some may disagree with me, but it didn't quite read like Dickens. The wit wasn't as strong, and those long, meandering sentences weren't there as much (mercifully, for some readers!). Because I'm so used to those endless sentences, it seemed a little abrupt, and the whole work had an air of disappointment, sometimes vague, sometimes more explicit. On Rome, for example, he wrote,
It was no more my Rome: the Rome of anybody’s fancy, man or boy; degraded and fallen and lying asleep in the sun among a heap of ruins: than the Place de la Concorde in Paris is. A cloudy sky, a dull cold rain, and muddy streets, I was prepared for, but not for this: and I confess to having gone to bed, that night, in a very indifferent humour, and with a very considerably quenched enthusiasm.
A paragraph later, writing on St. Peter's, Dickens observed,
It looked immense in the distance, but distinctly and decidedly small, by comparison, on a near approach. The beauty of the Piazza, on which it stands, with its clusters of exquisite columns, and its gushing fountains - so fresh, so broad, and free, and beautiful - nothing can exaggerate. The first burst of the interior, in all its expansive majesty and glory: and, most of all, the looking up into the Dome: is a sensation never to be forgotten. But, there were preparations for a Festa; the pillars of stately marble were swathed in some impertinent frippery of red and yellow; the altar, and entrance to the subterranean chapel: which is before it: in the centre of the church: were like a goldsmith’s shop, or one of the opening scenes in a very lavish pantomime. And though I had as high a sense of the beauty of the building (I hope) as it is possible to entertain, I felt no very strong emotion. I have been infinitely more affected in many English cathedrals when the organ has been playing, and in many English country churches when the congregation have been singing.
I believe Pictures from Italy was written at a rather difficult time in Dickens' marriage, and I think that comes through. Some kind of unhappiness, at least, or discontentment is evident, which, on the whole, left me feeling a little flat when I finished it. Nevertheless, there's some very vivid descriptions and most certainly worth looking at. This short work (my Penguin edition was 187 pages) is not the only travel book by Charles Dickens. There's also American Notes (1842) and The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices (with Wilkie Collins, 1857), if not some others I've missed, and I'm most interested to read those, and not just to see how the tone compares.

To finish with - first an apology - I do hate writing of disappointment in books, especially on favourite authors! But I was curious about the book and did want to report back on it. Anyway, on a high note: I found some lovely engravings by Samuel Palmer to end with (taken from the 1846 edition published by Bradbury & Evans):

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Top Ten Pre-Raphaelite Paintings Inspired by Literature (with a John William Waterhouse bonus!).

This week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, so, as I do love all things Pre-Raphaelite I've chosen my Top Ten Pre-Raphaelite Paintings Inspired by Literature. But, as I love John William Waterhouse so much, yet still wanted to include the other paintings below, I've made a John William Waterhouse bonus list at the end!

1. The Lady of Shalott by William Maw Egley (1858).

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

2. Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt (1868).

Taking the head to her room, she locked herself in and cried bitterly, weeping so profusely that she saturated it with her tears, at the same time implanting a thousand kisses upon it. Then she wrapped the head in a piece of rich cloth, and laid it in a large and elegant pot, of the sort in which basil or marjoram is grown. She covered it in soil, in which she planted several sprigs of the finest Salernitan basil, and never watered them except with essence of roses or orange-blossom, or with her own teardrops. She took to sitting permanently beside this pot and gazing lovingly at it, concentrating the whole of her desire upon it because it was where her beloved Lorenzo lay concealed. And after gazing raptly for a long while upon it, she would bend over it and begin to cry, and her weeping never ceased until the whole of the basil was wet with her tears.

3. Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1852).

There is a Willow growes aslant a Brooke,
That shewes his hore leaues in the glassie streame:
There with fantasticke Garlands did she come,
Of Crow-flowers, Nettles, Daysies, and long Purples,
That liberall Shepheards giue a grosser name;
But our cold Maids doe Dead Mens Fingers call them:
There on the pendant boughes, her Coronet weeds
Clambring to hang; an enuious sliuer broke,
When downe the weedy Trophies, and her selfe,
Fell in the weeping Brooke, her cloathes spred wide,
And Mermaid-like, a while they bore her vp,
Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,
As one incapable of her owne distresse,
Or like a creature Natiue, and indued
Vnto that Element: but long it could not be,
Till that her garments, heauy with her drinke,
Pul'd the poore wretch from her melodious buy,
To muddy death.

4. La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Frank Cowper (1926).

From La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats (1819).

And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d
On the cold hill’s side.

5.  Mariana by John Everett Millais (1851).

From Mariana by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1830)
She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,'
I would that I were dead!'

6. The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1875-78).

From The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1850).
The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.

7. Laus Veneris by Edward Burne Jones (1873-75).

From Laus Veneris by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1866).

Her little chambers drip with flower-like red,
Her girdles, and the chaplets of her head,
Her armlets and her anklets; with her feet
She tramples all that winepress of the dead. 
Her gateways smoke with fume of flowers and fires,
With loves burnt out and unassuaged desires;
Between her lips the steam of them is sweet,
The languor in her ears of many lyres.

8. Madeline After Prayer by Daniel Maclise (1868).

From The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats (1819).
A casement high and triple-arch'd there was,
All garlanded with carven imag'ries
Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings;
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldries,
And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blush'd with blood of queens and kings.

9. Medea by Frederick Sandys

From Medea by Euripides (431 B.C.)
Shall I burn
Their house with fire? Or stealing past unseen
To Jason's bed—I have a blade made keen
For that—stab, breast to breast, that wedded pair?
Good, but for one thing. When I am taken there,
And killed, they will laugh loud who hate me. . . .
Nay, I love the old way best, the simple way
Of poison, where we too are strong as men.

10. 'Swallow, Swallow' by John Everett Millais (1864).

From The Princess by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1847).
O Swallow, Swallow, flying, flying South,
Fly to her, and fall upon her gilded eaves,
And tell her, tell her, what I tell to thee.

John William Waterhouse Bonus:

1. Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse (1903).

From Metamorphoses (Book III) by Ovid (8 A.D.)
Blindly rapt with desire for himself, he was votary and idol,
suitor and sweetheart, taper and fire - and one and the same time.
Those beautiful lips would implore a miss, but as he bent forward
the pool would always betray him.

2.  Miranda, The Tempest by John William Waterhouse (1916).

O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! A brave vessel,
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her
Dashed all to pieces. O, the cry did knock
Against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished.
Had I had been any god of power, I would
Have sunk the sea within the earth, or ere
It should the good ship so have swallowed and
The fraughting souls within her.

3. Apollo and Daphne by John William Waterhouse (1908).

Apollo wanted to say much more, but the terrified Daphne
ran all the faster; she left him behind with his speech unfinished.
Her beauty was visible still, as her limbs were exposed by the wind;
the breezes which blew in her face managed to also flutter her dress;
and the currents of air succeeded in blowing her tresses behind her.
Flight made her all the more lovely; but now the god in his youthful
ardour was ready no longer to squander his breath on wheedling
pleas. Spurred on by desire he followed the trail with new vigour.

4. Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May by John William Waterhouse (1909)

From To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick (1648).
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

5. The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (1888).

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

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