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Showing posts from September, 2015

Othello by William Shakespeare.

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Othello is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in 1603 and first performed in 1604. It was possibly inspired by Un Capitano Moro, a tale in Giovanni Battista Giraldi's (Cinthio) GliHecatommithi (1565; tales in turn inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron) and 'The Three Apples from One Thousand and One Nights, and it is one of his most famous and important plays.

The synopsis is fairly simple, though lengthy - Othello, described as a "Moor" ("The Moor of Venice" as is the subtitle), suggesting he is African (perhaps Islamic Arabic in Northern Africa, or perhaps referring to African from other regions of the continent), is a General in the Venetian army. He is married to the loving and faithful Desdemona, daughter of the senator Brabantio. His friend and captain is Michael Cassio; and he is also friends with his other captain Iago, unaware that he is a treacherous and wicked villain.

At the beginning of the play it is revealed that Othello …

The Prioress's Prologue and Tale and The Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

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This week in The Canterbury Tales I continue with Fragment VII, reading The Prioress's Prologue and Tale, and The Prologue and Tale of Sir Thopas - both very short (I'm going easy on myself this week in preparation for the slightly longer The Tale of Melibee next week!). 
The Prioress's Prologue begins with a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary and sets the tone for her story: Lady, thy bountee, thy magnificence,
Thy vertu and thy grete humylitee
Ther may no tonge expresse in no science;
For somtyme, Lady, er men praye to thee,
Thou goost biforn of thy benyngnytee,
And getest us the lyght, of thy preyere,
To gyden us unto thy Sone so deere.The Tale (which is intensely anti-Semitic) begins by describing a Jewish community in Asia within a Christian city: Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,
Amonges Cristene folk a Jewerye,
Sustened by a lord of that contree
For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,
Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye;
And thurgh the strete men myghte ride or wende,
For it wa…

The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. by James Boswell.

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Boswell's Life of Johnson (first published in 1791) is one of the most intimidating books I've read to date. I've been meaning to read it for about three years now, and as it happens it's an absolute fluke that I managed it. Firstly I listed it in my Classics Club Spin, partly hoping it might come out, but mostly hoping it wouldn't - and it did, and secondly - well, this is a story I don't come out too well in so I'll be sparing on the details and tell you a few weeks ago I had to myself five hours where my only option was to read (I was avoiding someone). As I felt guilty for avoiding this 'someone', instead of reading a pleasant book I thought I'd make myself work a little and read Boswell. Before then I'd managed two hundred pages and decided I wanted to give up, but those five hours took me up page 600. Over half-way through, I decided to keep going over the weekend, and that is how I read The Life of Samuel Johnson: absolute chance and …

The Physician's Tale, The Pardoner's Introduction, Prologue, and Tale, and The Shipman's Tale from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

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This week for The Canterbury Tales I'll be writing about The Physician's Tale, and The Pardoner's Introduction, Prologue, and Tale, completing Fragment VI, and then moving straight into the lengthy Fragment VII with The Shipman's Tale: if I stick to schedule, I won't be starting Fragment VIII until the week commencing 19th October (and in that week I'll be reading Fragments VIII and IX, then finishing with Fragment X the following week).
Fragment VI starts straight with The Physician's Tale: there is no introduction, prologue, or reference to the previous tale told by The Franklin. It begins, Ther was, as telleth Titus Livius,
A knyght that called was Virginius,
Fulfild of honour and of worthynesse,
And strong of freendes, and of greet richesse.This knight (Virginius), the Physician goes on to tell, had only one daughter (Virginia) who was so beautiful (of course: Medieval heroines are never ugly!) that not Apelles, Zeuxis, nor Pygmalion could ever imitate her. …

Stephen Hero by James Joyce.

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Stephen Hero is a first draft of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the latter of which was first published in 1916. Stephen Hero was composed, it's thought, around about 1904 - 1906 but not published until after Joyce's death in 1944. Sylvia Beech, the first publisher of Ulysses and owner of the original 'Shakespeare and Company' bookshop in Paris wrote of it, When the manuscript came back to its author, after the twentieth publisher had rejected it [thought to be an exaggeration], he threw it into the fire, from which Mrs. Joyce [actually Miss Eileen Joyce, James Joyce's sister], at the risk of burning her hands, rescued these pages.To this tale, Herbert Gorman (author of James Joyce: A Definitive Biography, 1939) adds that in 1908,
Joyce burned a portion of Stephen Hero in a fit of momentary despair and then started the novel anew in a more compressed form.That compressed form was, of course, Portrait; of Stephen Hero Joyce wrote that is wa…

Top Ten Books On My Autumn TBR.

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Autumn begins tomorrow! And October is next week! How absolutely fast this year has gone... It really didn't seem like that long ago I was planning my 'Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR' (I read nine). I do love autumn very much, I love the cosiness of it and the energy of it - the rain, the wind, the changing and falling leaves. And the light - the tawny glow of evenings and the dark nights (last night it was dark before eight o'clock), all of it - a wonderful season! 
As for reading plans - in the first week or so of November I should finish The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, which is exciting, and after that I'll only have his short poems left to read before I've finished his complete works. So that's the major plan! As for other challenges - I have thirteen titles left of the Deal Me In Challenge (which is truly frightening because that means there's only thirteen weeks of the year left!): three short stories (Priests and Sinners by Émile Zola, T…

The Girl Who Loves Me by Émile Zola.

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The Girl Who Loves Me (Celle Qui M’aime) is a short story by Émile Zola from his first publication Stories from Ninon (Contes à Ninon), 1864: seven years before the publication of The Fortune of the Rougons - the first novel of the Rougon Macquart series. This, then, is a very early Zola indeed, which makes for an exciting read! 
I recently read an article by Philip Walker: 'The Mirror, The Window, and The Eye in Zola's Fiction' (1969), in which he writes, as the title suggests, on the significance of the many mentions of mirrors, windows, glass, eye glasses, and eyes in Zola's works. These objects may allow characters and even reader to see in or out, but it also serves as a barrier, and the perceived reality may be objective or subjective: it is this that is the subject of The Girl Who Loves Me. The story, only about 15 pages long, is divided into ten parts. In it the narrator is in search of love - literally the girl who loves him. He goes to a fairground where one o…

English Writers on America by Washington Irving.

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English Writers on America is an essay by Washington Irving which it was published in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., 1819 - 1820 (this also contains The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle). In this, Irving writes of the animosity between England and America; in particularly, within the literary scene. He begins,
It is with feelings of deep regret that I observe the literary animosity daily growing up between England and America. Great curiosity has been awakened of late with respect to the United States, and the London press has teemed with volumes of travels through the Republic; but they seem intended to diffuse error rather than knowledge; and so successful have they been, that, notwithstanding the constant intercourse between the nations, there is no people concerning whom the great mass of the British public have less pure information, or entertain more numerous prejudices.He goes on to pay English travellers with a compliment, that "none can equal them fo…

The Shorter Pepys, Selected and Edited by Robert Latham from The Diary of Samuel Pepys.

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The Shorter Pepys is the edited diary of Samuel Pepys: 'shorter', but by no means short - this diary (published in 1985) is approximately one third of the complete diary of Samuel Pepys, but still runs to over a thousand pages (the full diary is said to contain over a million words).
So where to begin? Pepys was born on 23rd February 1633 and died 26 May 1703. He was a naval administrator, appointed Admiral's secretary on 9th March 1660 by his father's cousin Sir Edward Montagu (later the 1st Earl of Sandwich), and on 29th June appointed Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board. In 1673 he was elected an MP for Castle Rising (a constituency abolished in 1832), then in 1679 he was MP for  Harwich (abolished in 2010: the last MP was former Conservative minister Douglas Carswell, who famously defected to UKIP in 2014 and is now a UKIP MP for Clacton). He married Elisabeth de St Michel in 1655, when he was 22 and she was 14, and he suffered from bladder stones, even undergoing a…