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Showing posts from 2016

Goodbye, 2016.

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"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, But in battalions."
- Hamlet (Act IV Scene V) by William Shakespeare.
2016 was an excellent year for Red Admiral butterflies, which were up 70 per cent compared with 2015, but alas, they seemed to be one of the few species on this planet (including our own) that weren't depleted, diseased, or depressed. What a dreadful year. Where does one begin? So much has happened, but there's been so little time to come to terms with it. I decided to write this post just to get my head around some of the madness.

One of the hallmarks of 2016 was how fast-paced it was. The world was shocked on the 10th January when David Bowie died. Four days later, another great Alan Rickman followed suit and from there a steady procession of world famous figures and national treasures left us. Terry Wogan, Prince, Tony Warren, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Richard Adams, Leonard Cohen, A. A. Gill, George Michael, Jean Alexander, Pete Burns, Gene Wild…

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare.

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When I look back at my reading year I'd say 2016 was the year of the English Renaissance history play. I've been reading a lot this year, from King Johan by John Bale (1534) to Shakespeare's plays on the English kings and Roman politicians and more in between, and I've enjoyed the Tudor and Jacobean portrayal of some of England and Rome's most famous names. And so, it's fitting to finish 2016 (for this will be my last review, though not necessarily my last post) with Coriolanus: not only is it the final of Shakespeare's Roman plays, but it's also Shakespeare's final tragedy.
Coriolanus was written around 1605 and 1608 (the same time as Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, Macbeth and King Lear) and it is based Plutarch's account of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, a Roman general of the 5th Century B.C., from The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (2nd Century A.D.). The play begins with a riot: the people of Rome, which has recently suffered a f…

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.

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The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream is a Christian allegory by John Bunyan, first published in 1678. It is one of the most influential texts ever written and I've seen it mentioned throughout literature more times than I can count, particularly in Victorian literature. Here are a few examples:
The subtitle of Oliver Twist, A Parish Boy's Progress by Charles Dickens (1837-9).Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (1847-8) refers to a location in Pilgrim's Progress (the seventh section).Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847) makes frequent reference to Pilgrim's Progress (as does Shirley and Villette) and Jane Eyre's progress takes a similar path to the Pilgrim's.Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9) refers to Pilgrim's Progress many times and the character's progress, like Jane Eyre often mirror the text.The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869) had the alternative title of 

Beowulf.

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Beowulf is a poem I've read quite a few times now, the first, if I recall correctly, was in high school. I've always been struck by how impressive it is, very dark and so very atmospheric. It's an English poem by an unknown author set in Scandinavia, and is possibly the oldest long poem written in the English language. It's uncertain when it was composed (some estimate that it was around the late 7th, early 8th Century), but it appears the manuscript dates somewhere between 975 and 1025 A.D. during the times of Edward the Martyr (Eadweard), Æthelred the Unready (Æþelræd Unræd) and Edmund Ironside (Eadmund) of the House of Wessex, and Sweyn Forkbeard (Svend Tveskæg) and Cnut (Knútr) of the House of Denmark, several decades before William the Conqueror and the House of Normandy.
The original text, written in Old English, is of course difficult to understand so I read the Seamus Heaney translation. Out of curiosity however, I did look up the original text and I was surpris…

Chapters XXVII - XXIX of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

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Here we are, the half-way point of The Pickwick Papers! This post is going to be a bit of a three-parter: firstly, this tenth instalment is a Christmas special so a good opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Next, a wee summary of Instalment X, and finally what's coming next year.
But, before we get into Chapters 27 - 29, let it first be said that December of 1836 was particularly snowy, and the scenes in this tenth instalment coupled with his other works, particularly A Christmas Carol(1843) inspired by that winter and ones before it have greatly influenced our perception of an ideal Christmas - snow, frost, and roaring fires. In December 1836 the snow fell up to fifteen feet in some places and there were even snow drifts of up to fifty feet. On 27th December Britain saw its worst avalanche in Lewes in Sussex: a buildup of snow on the hills surrounding the village collapsed, and some eight people were killed that day. To commemorate this a pub was built and named th…

Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay by Robert Greene.

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The Honorable Historie of Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay is a comedy by Robert Greene, who it is thought contributed to William Shakespeare's King John and Henry VI Parts I, II, and III, and, furthermore, was a possible inspiration for one of Shakespeare's greatest comic characters Sir John Falstaff (of Henry IV Parts I and II and The Merry Wives of Windsor).
I enjoyed reading historical plays this year so I was very happy to see that Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is a historical comedy (of sorts, at least). The play was written and performed somewhere around 1588 - 1592 and it's set during the reign of King Henry III, who reigned form 1216 to 1272: he first came to the throne he was just nine years old. Henry III immediately followed King John and, in terms of historical plays, after King Henry III came King Edward I (of whom George Peele wrote about in his The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First, 1593), who was followed by Edward II (of Marlowe's play), then from …

The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope.

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One of my resolutions for 2016 was to finish Anthony Trollope's Palliser series (that was also a 2015 resolution but there it is) and now, with just over a week to go, I have finally finished it having now read - Can You Forgive Her? (1864-65)Phineas Finn (1867-68)The Eustace Diamonds (1871-73)Phineas Redux (1873-74)The Prime Minister (1876)The Duke's Children (1880) If you've been keeping up with my posts you'll know that this read has not gone too well at all, which, given how much I love Anthony Trollope, is very unfortunate. The first novel Can You Forgive Her?, which I read in March 2015, went very well indeed, I loved it very much. By contrast, Phineas Finn was quite the disaster, I couldn't get into that, not even a smidgen and it wasn't until April 2016 that I finally completed it (after numerous false starts). The third, The Eustace Diamonds (I read it in May '16), was a return to form and this is by far my favourite of the Pallisers and even one o…

The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf.

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The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf is divided into two editions; The Common Reader First Series (1925) and The Common Reader Second Series (1932). I've read them several times now, and this latest re-read I began in January 2014. Since then I've been reading random chapters, some for fun, some it seemed pertinent to read at the time, but in November of this year I was moved to read it all, all the way through. Trump had just been elected and the nightmarish quality of 2016 seemed to have peaked, and the world most certainly lacked any sense (still true, to be honest) and I needed not so much escapism but some cohesion. I'm now at the stage where I've read a lot of the authors and works mentioned in The Common Reader (by no means all) and I agree with so much of what Virginia Woolf has to say, so for me, reading The Common Reader was about bringing that sense, order, and unity to a big part of my life: reading. For that, reading this work was largely quite a settling a…