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Showing posts from January, 2016

Alcestis by Euripides.

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Thanks to Adam and winning the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge I managed this month to get a hold of The Complete Dramas of Euripides, something I've wanted for quite some time, and I'm hoping I may be able to read all the plays in 2016. In the book the plays are simply arranged in alphabetical order, which is as good a way as any to work through an author, and so I start with Alcestis (Ἄλκηστις), which was first performed in 438 B.C.
In the Prologue Apollo explains of how he persuaded the Fates to allow King Admetus to live beyond what would be his natural lifespan, saving him from the possible revenge from Apollo's sister Artemis after he failed to make a sacrifice in her honour. However in order for this to happen Admetus must find a replacement for him when Death arrives. The only person who is willing to give their life so that Admetus may have his is his wife Alcestis. And so at the beginning of the play we see her dying, with Death (Thanatos) arriving to take her to the Unde…

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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I've been meaning to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Sir Gawayn and þe Grene Knyȝt) for years. It was composed in the mid to late 14th century by an unknown author who is referred to as 'the Pearl Poet' (the manuscript contains three other poems: Pearl, Purity, and Patience, but it is not absolutely certain all of these poems share a common author).

It's based on Arthurian legend and begins on New Year's Eve during a celebratory feast at King Arthur's court. A stranger arrives - the Green Knight - with a challenge: whoever brave enough may strike the Green Knight with the Green Knight's own axe, but on the condition that a year and a day later the Green Knight may return and the striker is to receive a blow in return. Sir Gawain takes up the challenge, striking the Green Knight and severing his head, but to the amazement of the court the Green Knight picks up his head and rides away after reminding Sir Gawain,
Be prepared to perform what you promised, G…

The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy.

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The Hand of Ethelberta by Thomas Hardy, first published in 1876, is somewhat of a surprise. It's described as a London society comedy, which does seem rather far removed from our Wessex tragedian's usual works. Hardy himself said in the preface, "This somewhat frivolous narrative was produced as an interlude between stories of a more sober design..."; it came after Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and before The Return of the Native (1878).
It's about Ethelberta Chickerel, a butler's daughter who is employed as a governess by Sir Ralph and Lady Petherwin. Their son falls in love with her and they elope, but only two weeks later he dies leaving Ethelberta Petherwin as a widow. Very shortly after Sir Ralph dies and Lady Petherwin sends Ethelberta to Germany to finish her education. When she returns she lives a luxurious life with Lady Petherwin but when Lady Petherwin discovers that Ethelberta is a poet she disinherits her. After her death Ethelberta is left pe…

Books III and IV of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

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The Metamorphoses read-along continues with Books III and IV...

Book III
Cadmus | Acteaon | Semele | Teirésias | Narcíssus and Echo | Pentheus and Bacchus [I] Acoletes and the Lydian Sailors | Pentheus and Bacchus [II]
Cadmus
Dragons tooth → Spartoi ("sown men"), the founders of Thebes
We left Book II with Jupiter, disguised as a bull, carrying off Europa into the sea. It falls to Europa's brother Cadmus to find her or face being exiled by their father. When he is unsuccessful he turns to the Oracle of Apollo to ask for assistance, and is told, If you make for the wilds, you will soon be met
by a cow that has never been yoked or harnessed to draw a ploughshare.
She is to guide your path, and where she settles for grazing,
found a city with walls and name the region Boeótia.He finds the cow and follows her and when they reach the spot he makes a sacrifice to Jupiter but he and his men encounter a dragon. Only Cadmus survives and, guided by Minerva, he slays the dragon and buries th…

The Eumenides by Aeschylus.

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♔ The Oresteia (458 B.C.) ♔
Agamemnon| The Libation Bearers | The Eumenides
The Eumenides (Εὐμενίδες) is the final play of Aeschylus' trilogy The Orestia. So far we've seen how Orestes' mother Clytemnestra along with her lover Aegisthus killed Agamemnon, Orestes father (Agamemnon) and then how having plotted with his sister Electra and friend Pylades, Orestes killed Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, revenging his father (The Libation Bearers). We left off from The Libation Bearers with Orestes immediately being pursued by The Furies. 
In The Eumenides Orestes continues to be tormented by the Furies, known also as the Erinyes: the deities of vengeance, or the personification of the anger of the dead. After wandering as an outcast he consults the Oracle of Delphi: Apollo. Pythia, the priestess of Apollo, first encounters the Furies:
Terrors -
terrors to tell, terrors all can see! -
they send me reeling back from Apollo's house.
The strength drains, it's very hard to stand,
crawlin…

Shellfish for Monsieur Chabre by Émile Zola.

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Shellfish for Monsieur Chabre (Les Coquillages de Monsieur Chabre) is a short story by Émile Zola first published in Vestnik Evropy (The European Herald) in September 1876, then later in Zola's A Flash in the Pan (Naïs Micoulin, 1884), which also included La Mort d'Olivier Bécaille, NantasMadame Neigeon, and Jacques Damour).
It's divided into six chapters (though only thirty pages) and is a fairly rare example of Zola's lighter side. Monsieur Chabre, a wealthy retired corn merchant, has married a young woman - Estelle Catinot - and it is Chabre's dearest wish that they would have a child. Zola writes of Estelle,  Madame Chabre was acknowledged as a young woman of perfect breeding, adequately pious and incapable of giving rise to the slightest breath of scandal, brought up, indeed, in the soundest of middle-class principles by a strict mother.Zola fans, or at least those who have read Pot Luck (Pot-Bouille, 1882) know precisely what Zola thinks of "middle-class…

The Book of Margery Kempe.

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The Book of Margery Kempe is believed to be the first English autobiography. It is Margery Kempe's story of her own life as a Christian mystic of the late Medieval period, written in the 1430s (making this, I think, the first 15th Century work I've read). Margery Kempe is one of the most striking people I've ever come across. She was born and lived in Norfolk in an area then known as Bishop's Lynn (now King's Lynn). She was middle class, daughter of John Brunham, a merchant, town mayor, and later Member of Parliament. She married John Kempe, a town official, and together they had fourteen children. Unusually for a married woman with a living husband and children she was also a mystic: a person who believes and is believed to have a direct relationship with God and / or Jesus. At the time, of course, not everyone did believe that: she was a divisive character, some helped her, some wanted her burned at the stake. The manifestations of her mysticism were often public…

The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

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I'm a huge Virginia Woolf fan, but if I really analyse it it's the 1920s Woolf I love: Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando(not so much Jacob's Room, admittedly), The Common ReaderA Room of One's Own - these are my favourites, these, I think, are her finest. 1910s Woolf (The Voyage Out and Night and Day being the two novels of that time) I enjoy, and I could never get into to 1930s Woolf as much. I loved Flush, it's hard not to, and there is The Common Reader Second Series from 1932, but Three Guineas, The Years, and The Waves are not favourites. And sadly Between the Acts, 1940s Woolf, was lost on me (though I was inspired to try again by this post by Simon Lavery).
That said, I think my second read of The Waves was a little more successful. It's Virginia Woolf's seventh novel (if you count Orlando as a novel: some count it a biography) and was published in 1931. It's her most 'experimental' - and yes, by that I also mean 'hard'. 
T…

The History of Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson.

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I have wanted to read The History of Sir Charles Grandison ever since I first read Clarissain 2012. It is one of Richardson's epistolary novels: Richardson's other novels are Clarissa, (1748), and the Pamela novels: Pamela or Virtue Rewarded (1740), and Pamela in her Exalted Condition (1741). Sir Charles Grandison followed Clarissa in 1753. I loved Clarissa and basically hated Pamela (Virtue Rewarded) so I was looking forward to seeing where Sir Charles would fit in. And, it's said to be one of Jane Austen's favourite novels; she even re-wrote it as a play, which made it all the more intriguing.
I ended up giving Sir Charles four stars on Goodreads: three stars really, but that additional star out of respect for Richardson's achievement. In fact it falls exactly between Pamela and Clarissa in more than just one way. Samuel Johnson wrote of Clarissa that one ought to read it for the sentiment; if one read it for the plot one would hang oneself. The much shorter Pamel…

The Libation Bearers by Aeschylus.

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♔ The Oresteia (458 B.C.) ♔
AgamemnonThe Libation Bearers | The Eumenides

The Libation Bearers (Χοηφόροι) is the second play in Aeschylus's trilogy The Oresteia. In the first, Agamemnon, we were left with the chilling scene of Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus, Clytaemnestra's lover, celebrating their murdering of Clytaemnestra's husband Agamemnon. In this second play we will see the consequences of her actions. 
As was told in Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon had four children - Iphigenia, Electra, Orestes and Chrysothemis. Before setting off to fight in the Trojan War Agamemnon sacrificed Iphigenia to ensure a safe voyage (one of the reasons why Clytaemnestra killed him). Orestes is absent in Agamemnon (in Sophocles' play Electra he had been smuggled away by Electra to Strophius of Phocis for his safety). Chrysothemis I don't recall being mentioned, though in Sophocles' Electra she was portrayed as the passive sister, accepting the situation without wishing to…