Thursday, 31 March 2016

Henry IV Part II by William Shakespeare.

1901 edition.
Almost immediately after the success of Henry IV Part I, William Shakespeare wrote Henry IV Part II, written around 1596 - 1597 and first published in 1600. In this Shakespeare writes on the latter part of Henry IV's reign (Henry IV reigned from 13th October 1399 until his death, 20th March 1413). Though though this sequel is not generally preferred (some seeing it as a poor attempt at 'cashing in' on the success of the first part, known then simply as Henry IV) I did actually enjoy it more than the first part.

When we left Henry IV the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) had been won, however tensions between Henry and the Percys and their allies (the rebels) still remained and civil war was under way. The play begins in Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, where the Earl of Northumberland fled after his son Henry "Hotspur" was killed in the Battle of Shrewsbury. At the gate, Rumour stands "painted full of tongues" and delivers the opening monologue:
... Why is Rumour here?
I run before King Harry's victory;
Who in a bloody field by Shrewsbury
Hath beaten down young Hotspur and his troops,
Quenching the flame of bold rebellion
Even with the rebel's blood. But what mean I
To speak so true at first? my office is
To noise abroad that Harry Monmouth fell
Under the wrath of noble Hotspur's sword,
And that the king before the Douglas' rage
Stoop'd his anointed head as low as death.
This have I rumour'd through the peasant towns
Between that royal field of Shrewsbury
And this worm-eaten hold of ragged stone,
Where Hotspur's father, old Northumberland,
Lies crafty-sick: the posts come tiring on,
And not a man of them brings other news
Than they have learn'd of me: from Rumour's tongues
They bring smooth comforts false, worse than
true wrongs.
Walkworth Castle by Lee Frost.
At Walkworth, as Rumour promised, the Earl had hears conflicting reports on events in Shrewsbury however Mortin arrives and confirms that Hotspur has been killed, and so the Earl vows revenge.

The scene then changes to London where we meet Falstaff once more; the Lord Chief Justice confronts him about his role in the Gads Hill robbery (Falstaff attempts to bluff his way out of the charges, and, later, manages to avoid further legal action concerning his broken engagement to Mistress Quickly), and meanwhile the rebels gather at the palace of the Archbishop of York to discuss further their rebellion against Henry IV. Another battle is planned, though the Earl of Northumberland, having been persuaded by Hotspur's widow Lady Percy, has gone to Scotland and does not send soldiers to help in the battle. And so, without him, the rebels confront Prince John (the second son of Henry IV) at the Forest of Gaultree (Yorkshire). Prince John, pretending to be sympathetic, convinces them to lay down their weapons at which point they're all arrested and later executed for treason.

Meanwhile, the king is becoming increasingly ill and he worries about Hal (his eldest son who will become Henry V), who has continued his friendship with London's criminal class, despite it being inappropriate for a future king. Hal has shown sadness and concern over the health of Henry IV however he is reluctant to show it publicly, fearing it will appear hypocritical, and he realises he must spend less time with his friends. He eventually visits the king at the Palace of Westminster and, following an argument, the two reconcile and Henry IV gives Hal advice on being king, most notably to distract the people from civil war with a foreign one:
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of the former days.
Soon after, King Henry IV dies.

Falstaff Rebuked by Robert Smirke (1795).
In the final act Hal is crowned King Henry V and, in a rather painful scene, rejects Falstaff:
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.
For competence of life I will allow you,
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
To see perform'd the tenor of our word. Set on.
The play then ends with a epilogue promising another play, which will be the final play of what is known as 'The Henriad' (Richard II, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II, and Henry V, the latter of which was written around 1599). I'm very much looking forward to reading and writing about Henry V in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Ecclesiazusae by Aristophanes.

First page of the 1905 edition.
Ecclesiazusae (Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι), also known as The Assembly Women, The Women of the AssemblyThe Congress Women, Women in Parliament, and A Parliament of Women, is one of Aristophanes' later plays first performed in 391 B.C. It has much in common with Lysistrata, which was first performed twenty years early in 411 B.C.

By 391 B.C. the Peloponnesian War had been over for over a decade. Athens had been defeated and immediately afterwards a pro-Spartan oligarchy acted as a government (they would come to be known as the 'Thirty Tyrants'). A revolution followed and after thirteen months in power the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown and Athens began a period of rebuilding. Meanwhile a new war with Corinth had begun (in 395 B.C.)

So, in Ecclesiazusae a group of women led by Praxagora decide to take control of Athens, feeling they could do a much better job than the men. They disguise themselves as men and sneak into the assembly where they propose communist-like measures, vote for them, and even convince some men to vote too, and so are successful. Private property is thus regarded as theft, and a common fund is established and made available to all Athenians. Bizarrely, as a means to establish equality, it is insisted that a man first must sleep with an ugly woman before he may sleep with a beautiful one. Slaves still exist, but are commonly owned. This success is celebrated at the end of the play with a communal banquet, and it is during this banquet the longest word in the Ancient Greek language was used, a word coined by Aristophanes for this play - 
λοπαδο­τεμαχο­σελαχο­γαλεο­κρανιο­λειψανο­δριμ­υπο­τριμματο­σιλφιο­καραβο­μελιτο­κατακεχυ­μενο­κιχλ­επι­κοσσυφο­φαττο­περιστερ­αλεκτρυον­οπτο­κεφαλλιο­κιγκλο­πελειο­λαγῳο­σιραιο­βαφη­τραγανο­πτερύγων
It's defined by Liddell & Scott as "name of a dish compounded of all kinds of dainties, fish, flesh, fowl, and sauces" and was included in the 1990 Guinness World Records as the longest word to appear in literature. Here is the translation in my edition - it's spoken by the chorus regarding the communal feast:
Soup-fish-mash-hash-
Game-meat-cake-fry-
Flour-bones-duck-thrush-
Leeks-oil-cock-shark-
Hare-veal-brains-dove-
Whelk-skate-sauce-sprat-
Haddock-craddock-out of the paddock-
Larder-garden-frog and toady-
Squashed-on-the-road - an
Ollapodrida to serve and save you -
The stove and the lot
Of whatever you've got or haven't got!
And if any of you,
Can't grasp the menu,
Just ask for STEW.
I hate to say it, but Ecclesiazusae is the first play by Aristophanes that could not hold my interest. Nevertheless it is an important work because it represents the link between the Old Comedy (seen, for example, in Aristophanes' earlier works) and the New Comedy (for example Menander's plays) in which the Chorus had a greatly reduced role. Ecclesiazusae, I hope, is not a prime example of this 'new comedy' because I dread what's to come! I just could not get into it and much of the comedy slipped me by.

♚♚♚♚

The Plays of Aristophanes

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Let's Get a Divorce! by Victorien Sardou and Émile Najac.

Let's Get a Divorce! (Divorçons!) is a play by the French writers Victorien Sardou and Émile Najac and was first performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal on the 6th December 1880. It has one of the most distinctive titles I've ever come across in literature!

Quite obviously the play is about divorce. In France, from the quick crash-course I've just given myself on the history of divorce laws, divorce was first made legal in 1792 however it was then abolished in 1816 during the Restoration of Louis XVIII when Roman Catholicism became once again the state religion. In the United Kingdom it was possible to obtain divorce through an ecclesiastical court, however in 1858 the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 came into force and divorce could be obtained through civil courts. France however would have to wait until 27th July 1884 during the Third Republic (1870 - 1940) before a divorce could be obtained. Until then there were various attempts at reinstating the divorce laws, for example in 1876 Alfred Naquet (a member of the Chamber of Deputies) proposed the re-establishment of the divorce laws, and did so again in 1878, 1879, 1881 and 1882. He was, as I say, finally successful in 1884.

Let's Get a Divorce! was set in Rheims in 1880 where Monsieur des Prunelles and his young wife Cyprienne eagerly await the result of the latest parliamentary discussion on re-instating the Divorce Bill.  They are very unhappily married: des Prunelles, about twenty years Cyprienne's senior, is grumpy and obtuse, and Cyprienne, when she isn't reading The Question of Divorce, Divorce, On Divorce, About Divorce, and More about Divorce, is embarking on an affair with her husband's cousin Adhémar de Gratignan, only stopping for fear of dishonour. And so Adhémar sends a telegram to his friend Dumoulin in Paris requesting that Dumoulin responds with the news that the Divorce Bill has been reinstated (regardless of whether or not that is the truth). When the telegram arrives he secretly exclaims, "Now she will be mine!", everyone believes divorce is now possible, and Cyprienne can be with Adhémar without a scandal. But that is only Act I - there are still another two acts to go!

That Uncertain Feeling, directed by Ernst Lubitsch (1941),
was based on Sardou and Najac's Divorçons.
What follows is a fun farce in which des Prunelles, exploiting the new freedom they have (or think they have), endeavours to make his frivolous and passionate young wife to love him again. There is, as you'd expect, much talk of the nature of marriage, the advantages of divorce, and the consequences (for good or for bad), but above all this play is a comedy. There is no darkness, it's not bleak and depressing, just light-hearted and silly, and very good too. Let's Get a Divorce! is of 'la pièce bien faite' genre: it is "a well-made play", which is Neoclassical in its structure. Plot is everything, and most often based on a secret known only to one or two characters and the audience. Essentially it's very artificial and particularly neat: there is a problem, suspense, a climax, and a happy end where everything is wrapped up and no questions are left - this approach was described as "Make 'em laugh; make 'em weep; make 'em wait" (who actually said that I don't know - it's ascribed to Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Charles Reade). George Bernard Shaw called this genre "Sardoodledom", referring to Victorien Sardou, and was not a fan, nor was Émile Zola (who published Nana and The Experimental Novel in the same year as Let's Get a Divorce!) who described Sardou and writers like him as "simply labourers who are cleaning the paths of debris [...], not creators, not geniuses who are building a monument" (from The Experimental Novel). Whatever the case I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I don't think it deserves its neglect. I do very highly recommend it!

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a short work by William Blake, a mixture of poetry and prose, and was composed between 1790 - 1793 (it can be found online here). It may well be the hardest thing I've ever read!

The piece opens with a poem - 'The Argument': 
Rintrah roars, and shakes his fires in the burden’d air;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep.

Once meek, and in a perilous path,
The just man kept his course along
The vale of death.
Roses are planted where thorns grow,
And on the barren heath
Sing the honey bees.

Then the perilous path was planted,
And a river and a spring
On every cliff and tomb,
And on the bleachèd bones
Red clay brought forth;

Till the villain left the paths of ease,
To walk in perilous paths, and drive
The just man into barren climes.

Now the sneaking serpent walks
In mild humility,
And the just man rages in the wilds
Where lions roam.

Rintrah roars, and shakes his fires in the burden’d air;
Hungry clouds swag on the deep. 
Rintrah is a prophet figure, but who he truly is is uncertain. The true paths (where "The just man kept his course"), which were the more difficult of paths, have been taken over by the villains who "left the paths of ease", and the "just man" is pushed into "barren climes".

The second part of the argument is written in prose:
As a new heaven is begun, and it is now thirty-three years since its advent, the Eternal Hell revives. And Io! Swedenborg is the Angel sitting at the tomb: his writings are the linen clothes folded up. Now is the dominion of Edom, and the return of Adam into Paradise. See Isaiah xxxiv and xxxv chap. 
Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence. 
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.    
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.
Swedenborg, the "Angel sitting at the tomb" (which is empty - Swedenborg missed the resurrection) is Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish mystic (1688 - 1772) who claimed that humanity is divine, something Blake believed himself, and that the spiritual world was real and something that could be entered in at will. However Swedenborg had a dualistic cosmological outlook in which good and evil are polarised. Blake disagreed; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is on the unity or balance of these principles. Note too that if Swedenborg sat at the empty tomb thirty-three years too late at the beginning of this poem's composition in 1790, the advent would have been in 1757: the year of William Blake's birth.

The second part of the piece is 'The Voice of the Devil': the Devil, the rebellious angel, is admired by Blake. He makes several points to highlight traditional errors. For example - 

Error: "That Man has two real existing principles, viz. a Body and a Soul."
Truth: "Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age."

Error: "That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body; and that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul."
Truth: "Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy."

Error: "That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies."
Truth: "Energy is Eternal Delight."

He argues that energy, wrongly called 'evil' ought not to be restrained and the Devil is misrepresented in works such as John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667). 'Reason' should not be contrasted with 'Desire' and then cast out. He adds at the end of this section,
Note. The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.
The third section is called 'A Memorable Fancy'. Blake walks "among the fires of Hell", entering the spiritual world at will just as Swedenborg believed, and delighting in "the enjoyments of Genius, which to Angels look like torment and insanity". Here he collects proverbs, and these are presented in the fourth section, 'Proverbs of Hell', a contrast with the Bible's 'Book of Proverbs'. Here, as an example, are the first twelve lines:
In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plough.
Dip him in the river who loves water.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock; but of wisdom, no clock can measure.
By creating dualities of good and evil and by imposing them, Blake argues "Thus men forgot that All Deities reside in the Human breast".

Following the 'Proverbs of Hell' are four more sections all titled 'A Memorable Fancy' (as before). So I'll refer to the next section as 'A Memorable Fancy [II]' and so on. In this Blake talks of meeting with Isaiah and Ezekiel, and he asks them "how they dared so roundly to assert that God spoke to them; and whether they did not think at the time that they would be misunderstood, and so be the cause of imposition." Isaiah answers "my senses discover’d the infinite in everything", and he "cared not" for the consequences of what he wrote. Ezekiel answers in a similar vein and it suggested that convention and laws have affected to kill the spirit of mankind. The passage concludes,
If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
'A Memorable Fancy [III]' sees a return to hell - Blake is in a printing house and talks of six chambers:
In the first chamber was a Dragon-Man, clearing away the rubbish from a cave’s mouth; within, a number of Dragons were hollowing the cave.
In the second chamber was a Viper folding round the rock and the cave, and others adorning it with gold, silver, and precious stones.
In the third chamber was an Eagle with wings and feathers of air: he caused the inside of the cave to be infinite. Around were numbers of Eagle-like men who built palaces in the immense cliffs.
In the fourth chamber were Lions of flaming fire, raging around and melting the metals into living fluids. In the fifth chamber were Unnamed forms, which cast the metals into the expanse.
There they were received by Men who occupied the sixth chamber, and took the forms of books and were arranged in libraries.
He then writes of two classes of man, "the Prolific" and "the Devouring". Blake writes,
These two classes of men are always upon earth, and they should be enemies: whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence.
In 'A Memorable Fancy [IV]' Blake is challenged by an angel, and, in a way not dissimilar to Dante's Inferno he is guided to the Abyss:
By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us, at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders, crawling after their prey, which flew, or rather swum, in the infinite deep, in the most terrific shapes of animals sprung from corruption; and the air was full of them, and seem’d composed of them—these are Devils, and are called Powers of the Air. I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? He said: ‘Between the black and white spiders.’
When the Angel disappears so to does the Abyss, and Blake explains to the Angel later, "All that we saw was owing to your metaphysics; for when you ran away, I found myself on a bank by moonlight hearing a harper." Blake then shows the Angel his 'eternal lot', a horrifying vision of monkeys and baboons devouring each other. He returns to Swedenborg:
Thus Swedenborg’s writings are a recapitulation of all superficial opinions, and an analysis of the more sublime—but no further.
In the final section 'A Memorable Fancy [v]' Blake concludes with a dialogue between the Devil and the Angel, and the Devil argues, for example, "no virtue can exist without breaking these ten commandments. Jesus was all virtue, and acted from impulse, not from rules." The Angel is convinced and won over by the Devil; he becomes a Devil himself and remains a friend of Blake's. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell ends,
One Law for the Lion and Ox is Oppression.
It is a very difficult work and I hope I've basically got to grips with it. It is, as the title suggests, a 'marriage' or union of good and evil, heaven and hell, and the embracing of all energies so that they exist in balance and harmony. It's also a very disturbing work: Blake writes with authority, that is an assumed authority that he is correct, and overturns convention: everything that we have always known Blake suggests is wrong. For this it is a troubling work but however hard I found it I enjoyed it.



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Further Reading

That was my thirteenth title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Night and Day by Virginia Woolf.

Night and Day is the second published novel of Virginia Woolf, first published in 1919 (following The Voyage Out, 1915). It's what I think of as the second and final 'traditional' novel of hers as there is, it seems to me, a little of the Victorian in Woolf's first two novels: in Jacob's Room (1923) Woolf would break with that and become more experimental - more of a modernist. For now, though clearly in Virginia Woolf's distinctive voice, this is a more plot-based novel. 

Dedication to Vanessa Bell.
It centres around four characters, all friends or acquaintances: Katharine Hilbery, Mary Datchet, Ralph Denham, and William Rodney. Katharine Hilbery, modelled on Woolf's sister Vanessa (Night and Day is in fact dedicated to Vanessa), is a young upper middle class woman from a family of literary intellectuals (her grandfather was a great poet, and she and her mother are writing his biography). Mary Dachet is the daughter of a country vicar and works in an office for an organisation campaigning for women's suffrage. She is in love with Ralph Denham, a lawyer, who is in turn falling in love with Katharine, who herself is engaged to William Rodney, a mediocre writer very much attracted to Katharine's heritage and, ultimately, her cousin Cassandra Otway. All rather complicated!

Vanessa Bell, 1914.
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Despite what I said in the first paragraph, Night and Day is, as Woolf's novels are, about characters more than plot, though this plot is more central than in her other novels. Much of it is concerned with personal freedom; the frequent reference to the suffrage movement is certainly a motif, but the characters, especially Katharine and Mary, seek to break from their shackles. Katharine's family, name, and way of life weighs heavily upon her. In one memorable scene, right at the very start of the novel, we see her making tea as all young women did, as Vanessa did:
It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other young ladies of her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea. Perhaps a fifth part of her mind was thus occupied, and the remaining parts leapt over the little barrier of day which interposed between Monday morning and this rather subdued moment, and played with the things one does voluntarily and normally in the daylight. But although she was silent, she was evidently mistress of a situation which was familiar enough to her, and inclined to let it take its way for the six hundredth time, perhaps, without bringing into play any of her unoccupied faculties. A single glance was enough to show that Mrs. Hilbery was so rich in the gifts which make tea-parties of elderly distinguished people successful, that she scarcely needed any help from her daughter, provided that the tiresome business of teacups and bread and butter was discharged for her.
She will marry because this is what is expected of her, however Mary, despite being in love, fears marriage; her passion and talent is thus expressed in her work for the suffrage movement. In the two characters there is a contrast between what is suitable, right, and expected, and what is desired and needed. Another more subtle contrast is the highly frequent mention of stars and the universe giving a strange sense of repetition, inevitability, isolation, fate, and almost meaninglessness or futility. Here are four examples (the word "stars" appears about twenty-nine times in Night and Day):
On the whole, the balance was nearly even; and, writing down a kind of conclusion in her mind which finished the sum for the present, at least, she changed the focus of her eyes, and saw nothing but the stars.
And yet, after gazing for another second, the stars did their usual work upon the mind, froze to cinders the whole of our short human history, and reduced the human body to an ape-like, furry form, crouching amid the brushwood of a barbarous clod of mud. This stage was soon succeeded by another, in which there was nothing in the universe save stars and the light of stars; as she looked up the pupils of her eyes so dilated with starlight that the whole of her seemed dissolved in silver and spilt over the ledges of the stars for ever and ever indefinitely through space.
"When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don't seem to matter very much, do they?" she said suddenly.
She saw to the remote spaces behind the strife of the foreground, enabled now to gaze there, since she had renounced her own demands, privileged to see the larger view, to share the vast desires and sufferings of the mass of mankind. She had been too lately and too roughly mastered by facts to take an easy pleasure in the relief of renunciation; such satisfaction as she felt came only from the discovery that, having renounced everything that made life happy, easy, splendid, individual, there remained a hard reality, unimpaired by one's personal adventures, remote as the stars, unquenchable as they are.
Michael Whitworth in his biography of Virginia Woolf (2005) writes in detail on the developments in astronomy and Woolf's translation in her novels (there are many star references in many of Virginia Woolf's works) and mentions, like Thomas Hardy in Two on a Tower (1882) she "contrasted the stars with 'minute human loves'". It is a melancholy novel for that, and for other reasons. Even so, it is a very beautiful novel though it lacks the force of her later ones, and Woolf writes very evocatively on the streets of London. It seems very much an old story placed set during that 'bridge' between the old Victorians and the new Modernists. I loved that aspect: Victorian ways of life, their rules, norms, are very much alive, but their time is all but over, and the young generation know it. Night and Day is a great read, not Woolf's finest, but a very curious example of this changing period.

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Further Reading

Friday, 25 March 2016

Chapters I & II of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.


Here it is! The first instalment of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, or as it is best known, The Pickwick Papers. Imagine: it's March 1836, one hundred and eighty years ago: William IV is on the throne (and has been since 1831) and William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (a Whig) is in office for the second time (and has been since 1835). The London and Greenwich Railway, the first railway in London, has been open a mere month, Mrs. Beeton (of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management) has only just been born, the aforementioned Melbourne controversially appointed Renn Dickson Hampden as Regius Professor of Divinity (a professorship at the University of Oxford), and Charles Darwin had very recently (in January) just landed in Australia on HMS Beagle. Finally, a few days from now, the 31st March 1836 saw the first instalment of Charles Dickens' first novel: The Pickwick Papers.

Chapter I
The Pickwickians
The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.
'Mr Pickwick Addresses the Club'
Original illustration by Robert Seymour (1836)
for Chapter I of The Pickwick Papers.
There begins The Pickwick Papers and this twenty month read-along. The date - May 12, 1827 (only nine years ago), and the scene - an eminently serious meeting in which our man Samuel Pickwick, Esq., G.C.M.P.C., has delivered his "Speculations on the Source of the Hampstead Ponds, with some Observations on the Theory of Tittlebats" (a "tittlebat", incidentally, is the three-spined stickleback). The formation of the 'The Corresponding Society of the Pickwick Club' is then agreed: the other members aside from Samuel Pickwick are Tracy Tupman, Esq., M.P.C., Augustus Snodgrass, Esq., M.P.C., and Nathaniel Winkle, Esq., M.P.C. This is a travelling club to advance their knowledge, and members are requested
... to forward, from time to time, authenticated accounts of their journeys and investigations, of their observations of character and manners, and of the whole of their adventures, together with all tales and papers to which local scenery or associations may give rise, to the Pickwick Club, stationed in London.
Excitement grows, and -
And how much more interesting did the spectacle become, when, starting into full life and animation, as a simultaneous call for 'Pickwick' burst from his followers, that illustrious man slowly mounted into the Windsor chair, on which he had been previously seated, and addressed the club himself had founded. What a study for an artist did that exciting scene present! 
(And there to the right is the artist's impression by Robert Seymour, who, it's sad to say, I'll have reason to write about a little more about next month.)

To Pickwick's right, Tupman, the tubby chap whose "admiration for the fair sex was still [his soul's] ruling passion". To his left, the poetic Snodgrass, and nearby, the sporty Winkle. Dickens writes,
'Mr. Pickwick observed (says the secretary) that fame was dear to the heart of every man. Poetic fame was dear to the heart of his friend Snodgrass; the fame of conquest was equally dear to his friend Tupman; and the desire of earning fame in the sports of the field, the air, and the water was uppermost in the breast of his friend Winkle. He (Mr. Pickwick) would not deny that he was influenced by human passions and human feelings (cheers)—possibly by human weaknesses (loud cries of "No"); but this he would say, that if ever the fire of self-importance broke out in his bosom, the desire to benefit the human race in preference effectually quenched it. 
An argument then breaks out between Pickwick and a Mr. Blotton (duly recorded in the minutes), and Mr. Blotton goes as far as to call Mr. Pickwick "a humbug", but then he backs off - he only used it "in its Pickwickian sense". Chapter I ends,
Here the entry terminates, as we have no doubt the debate did also, after arriving at such a highly satisfactory and intelligible point. We have no official statement of the facts which the reader will find recorded in the next chapter, but they have been carefully collated from letters and other MS. authorities, so unquestionably genuine as to justify their narration in a connected form.
Chapter II
The first Day's Journey, and the first Evening's adventures;
with their consequences.

'The Pugnacious Cabman' by Robert Seymour
for Chapter II of The Pickwick Papers.
Here the Pickwickian adventures really starts. The chapter begins,
That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another sun from his slumbers, threw open his chamber window, and looked out upon the world beneath.
Pickwick dresses, leaves the house, and hails a cab where he meets the first curious character of the journey, the cab man, "a strange specimen of the human race, in a sackcloth coat, and apron of the same..." Pickwick learns the horse pulling the cab is 42 (42!) and is more or less held up by the cab itself. He duly jots the information down before he is joined by Snodgrass, Winkle, and Tupman, and to the astonishment of all it appears the cabby would sooner fight Pickwick for the money owed! He has assumed Pickwick is an informer. Happily they are rescued by a stranger who then joins them on their way to Rochester (Kent). They arrive at Rochester (having discussed a variety of matters, philosophy, the revolution, dogs, ladies...), and encounter Rochester Castle:
'Ah! fine place,' said the stranger, 'glorious pile—frowning walls—tottering arches—dark nooks—crumbling staircases—old cathedral too—earthy smell—pilgrims' feet wore away the old steps—little Saxon doors—confessionals like money-takers' boxes at theatres—queer customers those monks—popes, and lord treasurers, and all sorts of old fellows, with great red faces, and broken noses, turning up every day—buff jerkins too—match-locks—sarcophagus—fine place—old legends too—strange stories: capital;' and the stranger continued to soliloquise until they reached the Bull Inn, in the High Street, where the coach stopped.
In Rochester they stay at this very fashionable inn and end up going to a ball. All drink, some more heavily than others (our mysterious stranger and Tupman eventually pass out, before which poor Tupman is described as "'Rather fat—grown-up Bacchus"), and we meet the next curious character - "Doctor Slammer, surgeon to the 97th", about to dance with a lady until the stranger cuts in:
The stranger was young, and the widow was flattered. The doctor's attentions were unheeded by the widow; and the doctor's indignation was wholly lost on his imperturbable rival. Doctor Slammer was paralysed. He, Doctor Slammer, of the 97th, to be extinguished in a moment, by a man whom nobody had ever seen before, and whom nobody knew even now! Doctor Slammer—Doctor Slammer of the 97th rejected! Impossible! It could not be! 
Naturally he vows revenge, but here's the rub: our stranger had borrowed Winkle's coat, and the next day Doctor Slammer looks for the offender and sees Winkle in the same coat, and thus mistakes Winkle for the stranger. A duel is declared, and Winkle dare not refuse it. With heavy hearts Winkle and Snodgrass go to the assigned place, but fortunately Doctor Slammer realises his mistake. Chapter II ends,
By this time they had reached the road. Cordial farewells were exchanged, and the party separated. Doctor Slammer and his friends repaired to the barracks, and Mr. Winkle, accompanied by Mr. Snodgrass, returned to their inn.
And there ends this month's instalment of The Pickwick Papers. Next month, Chapter III, IV, and V. For now, do please let me know your thoughts if you're reading along with me (or not!), and here are the remaining two illustrations of Chapter II by Robert Seymour:

'The Sagacious Dog'
'Dr. Slammer's Defiance of Jingle'
For more Pickwick Papers, Stephen Jarvis (author of Death and Mr. Pickwick, 2015) is sharing all things Pickwick-related on his Facebook page, and today I discovered a Twitter account of the great Samuel Pickwick! 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Indiana by George Sand.

1909 edition.
Indiana is the first novel of George Sand - the pseudonym of Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin - and was first published in 1832. If one can categorise books as such, this is firmly placed in the 'Madame Bovary' genre - an unsuitable marriage and an affair that ends badly.

The heroine of the tale is Indiana Delmare, married to the much older Colonel Delmare. She is very highly strung and unbalanced, which manifests both mentally and physically: indeed, it is suggested that her bad marriage is almost entirely to blame for this. Like Emma Bovary, she is romantic too, and much of her ideas of love come from reading novels. Her cousin Ralph is in love with her, however she comes to fall in love with Raymon de Ramiere, who, essentially, is in love with the idea of being in love. He is handsome, frivolous, and says all the right things, so (unaware that he has already seduced her maid Noun) they begin their affair. For someone as vulnerable, inexperienced, and emotionally fragile as Indiana this affair is doomed from the outset. Raymon uses her, mistreats her, and eventually discards her. Her saviour is found, unexpectedly for Indiana, in her cousin Ralph.

I've seen this novel described as combining Romanticism with Realism, but for me it was melodramatic to the point of lunacy. It was certainly worth reading and on the whole I suppose it was enjoyable, but it was also (I'm showing myself to be unkind again) rather irritating. Catastrophically bad decisions are made left, right, and centre, and there is a twist at the end of the novel so strange I wonder what on earth the point was. It is at best glum (which isn't a criticism), packed with disasters, and at times seems almost tragic for the sake of being tragic. Even so, it was a little exciting and I'm certainly pleased I've read it. I would even recommend it: I think it's a novel that divides opinion, and there will be those who love it. For better or worse, Indiana Delmare certainly is memorable.

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Further Reading

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Books XI and XII of Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Continuing the read-along of Ovid's Metamorphoses...

Book XI

The Death of Orpheus | The Punishment of the Maenads | Midas | Laömedon's Treachery
Peleus and Thetis | Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx [I] | Ceÿx's Story: Daedalion
Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx [II] | Ceÿx and Alcyone | Aesacus

The Death of Orpheus

Nymphs finding the Head of Orpheus by John William Waterhouse (1900).
As Orpheus sings his songs and plays his lyre he is spotted by women - the Bacchantes. For rejecting all women they attack and kill him, dismembering him, and his head and lyre falls into the River Hebrus. His spirit passes to the Underworld where he is at last reunited with Eurydice.

The Punishment of the Maenads

The Maenads by John Collier (1886).
Maenads → Trees

Bacchus, enraged at Orpheus' death, transforms the women into trees.

Midas

Midas by Walter Crane (1893).
Midas' touch → Gold
Midas' ears → Ass's Ears

Bacchus then travels to Tḿolus where he is reunited with his tutor Silenus: he had been missing but was found by Midas, and as a reward Bacchus grants Midas one wish. Midas' wish is that he could turn everything he touched to gold, and with great misgivings and a heavy heart Bacchus grants this wish. Midas soon learns that this gift is a curse and begs Bacchus to remove this power. Bacchus does so but instructs him to cleanse himself of his sins in the river Pactolus. As Midas does so deposits of gold are left in the river.

So disillusioned with wealth, Midas wanders the fields and forests worshipping Pan. One day he encounters Pan in a flute playing contest with Apollo. Apollo is declared the winner and Midas objects. As a punishment Apollo gives Midas donkey ears. Midas hides his ears under a turban but his servant discovers his secret and whispers the secret into a hole. But, as Ovid writes,
... soon a close-packed cluster of quivering reeds
began to grow on the spot and, after a year of ripening,
gave the planter away. In the breeze from the south they would rustle
and whistle the buried words, 'King Midas has ass's ears!'

Laömedon's Treachery

Helen on the Walls of Troy by Gustave Moreau (1885).
Apollo then leaves for Troy where he finds King Laömedon building the new city's walls. Apollo and Neptune agree to help him for payment of gold, Laömedon accepts the offer, however when the walls are built Laömedon reneges. He is punished severely - Neptune raises the waves and floods Troy then demands Laömedon's daughter Hesione be sacrificed to a sea monster. Hercules rescues her for the price of some horses, but then Troy refuses to pay his reward. Hercules declares war, and he gives Hesione to his friend Télamon. Ovid then tells us Télamon is the brother of Péleus, who "married a goddess". 

Peleus and Thetis

The Wedding of Pelus and Thetis by Joachim Wtewael (1612). 
Thetis → Bird
Thetis → Tree
Thetis → Tiger

In Theogony Hesiod tells us that Thetis is the daughter of the Titan gods the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys who bear the Nereids - the fifty nymphs of the sea (Thetis is one of the nymphs). Thetis, Hesiod writes, goes on to marry Peleus and together they have a son - Achilles. In Metamorphoses Ovid writes on how Peleus 'won' Thetis. It was prophesied that Thetis would bear a son, "a hero who, grown to his prime, shall challenge the deeds of his father and merit a mightier name". Jupiter desired Thetis but feared this prophecy so he ordered his grandson Peleus to woo Thetis. "Wooing" in Ovid's terms is radically different from the usual sense of the word, I must say - Pelus "attempted to rape her" however she changed her form many times. Peleus was advised simply to grasp her until she gave up and resumed her natural state, which she did, and she gives up her fight and consents.

Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx [I]

Peleus, it is revealed, accidentally killed his brother Phocus. He is exiled, and he goes to Trachin where Ceÿx (the son of Lucifer, the morning star) is king. Ceÿx is too in mourning for his lost brother.

Ceÿx's Story: Daedalion

The Death of Chione by Nicolas Poussin (1622 - 1623).
Ceÿx goes on to tell Peleus his story about his brother Daedalion. The two brothers were very different, Ceÿx was a peaceful man whilst Daedalion loved war. Daedalion had a daughter, Chione, who at fourteen was ready for marriage. Apollo and Mercury both fall for her and rape her as she sleeps, and she is then pregnant with twins, Autolycus and Phillamon. Chione then becomes very vain, and she declares she is more beautiful than the goddess Diana. Diana hears and kills her by shooting an arrow through her tongue. When Daedalion hears of his daughter's death he throws himself off a cliff, however Apollo transforms him into a hawk.
Now he's a hawk, a mischievous creature who vents his rage
on the kingdom of birds and inflicts his pain and distress on his neighbours.
Peleus at the Court of Ceÿx [II]

Psamathe by Frederic Leighton (1880).
Wolf → Marble Statue

They are interrupted by a messenger who tells them of a disaster that has befallen Trachin: a wolf has emerged from a swamp and is intent on killing anyone who comes near it. Peleus guesses that this wolf was sent by Psamathe, the mother of Phocus. Thetis intervenes and begs Psamathe to forgive Peleus. Psamathe then turns the wolf into marble.

Ceÿx and Alcyone

Halcyone by Herbert James Draper (1915).
Ceÿx and Alcyone → Kingfishers

In this penultimate (and longest) tale of Book XI Ceÿx decides to travel to Clarus to consult the oracle (the Oracle of Dephi is besieged by King Phorbas). His wife Alcyone begs him not to leave however he insists. He and the sailors soon encounter a tempest, all are killed. Alcyone is unaware and prays to Juno to keep him safe; Juno asks Sleep to make Alcyone sleep and Morpheus, disguised as Ceÿx tells Alcyone of his fate. She goes to the shore to try and find him and there she sees his body, and at that moment she is transformed into a kingfisher. The gods then transform Ceÿx into a kingfisher and to this day they remain together and in love.

Aesacus

Aesacus → Diver (bird)

In the final tale of Book XI, an old man is watching the two kingfishers when he spots another bird, who was once Aesacus. Ovid tells of how Aesacus was in love with Hesperie and he chased her, but as she ran she was bitten by a snake and died. He is heartbroken and throws himself off a cliff, however Thetis intervenes and changes him into a bird - a diver, or merganser.

Book XII

The Greeks at Aulis | Rumour | Cycnus | Achilles' Victory Celebration
Caenis | The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs | Periclymenus | The Death of Achilles

The Greeks at Aulis


Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863).
The twelfth book of Metamorphoses begins with Aesacus' father King Priam of Troy, unaware of his son's fate. He and Hector, his son and Aesacus' brother, build an empty tomb and offer funeral gifts. Ovid notes of the brothers only Paris is missing - Paris is of course in the process of stealing Helen, the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. The Greeks pursue Paris, however they get held back at Aulis by the storms so they remain and make sacrifice to the gods. The prophet Calchas (who is in both Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, 1382 - 1386, and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, 1602) proclaims,
Rejoice, you Greeks! We will surely triumph,
Troy must fall, but our toil shall be long.
The storm continues, however, and Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to Diana (having previously killed her favourite stag). Diana then transforms Iphigenia into a deer, and accepts the sacrifice. The Greeks then have a clear voyage to Troy.

Rumour

Detail of Die Einführung des Ganymed in den Olymp (The Induction of Ganymede in Olympus)
by Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (1768). Pheme, or Rumour, is seen holding a trumpet and wreath.
Ovid then tells of the goddess Rumour and her abode, described as "at the heart of the world":
... Not one of the rooms is silent or quiet, but none
is disturbed by shouting. The noise is merely a murmuring babble,
low like the waves of the sea which you hear from afar, or the last faint
rumble of thunder, when storm-black clouds have clashed in the sky.
The hall is filled by a crowd which is constantly coming and going,
a flimsy throng of a thousand rumours, true and fictitious.
wandering far and wide in a turbulent tangle of language.
They chatter in empty ears or pass on stories to others;
the fiction grows and detail is added by each new teller.
Geoffrey Chaucer also describes this 'house of fame' (in, of course, House of Fame, 1379 - 1380), and the second part of Henry IV by William Shakespeare begins with a monologue by Rumour.

Cycnus 

The Fury of Achilles by Charles-Antoine Coypel (1737).
Cycnus → Swan

Rumour then spreads the word to the Trojans that a fleet of Greeks is approaching. And so they are ready and do battle on the beach. The Trojans' best fighter is Cycnus, and he encounter's the Greeks' best fighter Achilles. The two fight, but Cycnus tells Achilles he has been made invulnerable by his father Neptune. And so Achilles outwits Cycnus by making him so dizzy he collapses, at which point Achilles tries to choke him, however when he removes Cycnus' armour he finds it empty, except for a swan: Neptune had intervened.

Achilles' Victory Celebration

A temporary truce is called, and the Greeks enjoy a feast after Achilles sacrificed a heifer in honour of Athena. They talk of courage, and then of the death of Cycnus. Nestor tells the group he once saw a man invulnerable just like Cycnus - Caeneus. They ask Nestor to tell them the story, and he agrees.

Caenis

Poseidon and Caenis by Virgil Solis (1563).
Caenis → Caeneus

Nestor tells the story of Caenis, a woman who was raped by Neptune. He then promises her a gift, and she replies,
... let me never be able to suffer
such a wrong again. If you will make me a woman no more,
your promise will be fulfilled.
And so Neptune makes Caenis a man - Caeneus, who could never be hurt or wounded.

The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs

The Rape of Hippodame by Rubens (1636 - 1638).
Caenus → Golden-winged bird

The tale of the wedding feast of the king of the Lapiths, Pirithous, and his wife Hippodame is then told. Pirithous has invited centaurs, notoriously unruly, and a great fight breaks out. Eurytus, a centaur, grabs Hippodame and the other centaurs follow suit and grab any woman they can. Theseus tackles Eurytus, smashing a wine bowl in his face, Cyllarus and his wife Hylonome (both centaurs) are killed, and then Latreus attempts to kill Caenus, who of course cannot be killed, however the centaurs bury him alive under rocks. A golden-winged bird is seen flying out of the heap, and it is thought that was Caenus.

Periclymenus 

Periclymenus the Eagle by Isaac Briot (17th Century).
Periclymenus  Eagle

Here Tlepólemus interjects, objecting that Nestor did not mention his father Hercules who once defeated the centaurs. Nestor replies that Hercules is one of his foes; long ago Hercules destroyed his city and killed all eleven of his brothers, and that one of his brothers, Periclymenus, transformed into an eagle however Hercules shot him down.

The Death of Achilles

The Death of Achilles by Rubens (1630 - 1632).
In the final tale of Book XII Ovid tells of how Neptune hated Achilles for trying to kill his son Cycnus and how he asked Apollo for help. Apollo consents, and guides the arrow of Paris into his heel, killing him.

Achilles' armour, it was told, was made by Vulcan: it must be decided who will inherit it: Odysseus or Ajax. Agamemnon summons the Argive chiefs to make the decision, and there Book XII ends.

Books IX & X

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Lysistrata by Aristophanes.

1898 edition of Lysistrata, illustrated by
"Notor" (Vicomte Gabriel de Roton).
Lysistrata (Λυσιστράτη) is a play by Aristophanes first performed in 411 B.C, the same year as The Poet and the Women (Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι). It was staged during the Peloponnesian War  (431–404 BC) and a little earlier the Greeks had suffered a great defeat in Sicily. 

And so Aristophanes imagines a more peaceful way of ending this war that the Athenians were so very tired of. His main character Lysistrata, an Athenian housewife, calls a meeting with other women to reveal her plan:
Lʏsɪsᴛʀᴀᴛᴀ: All right! I'll speak then. I'll let out my great secret!
Women! If we want to compel the men
To make peace, we must... it's imperative...
Kᴀʟᴏɴɪᴋᴇ: Well, go on.
Lʏsɪsᴛʀᴀᴛᴀ: Will you do it?
Kᴀʟᴏɴɪᴋᴇ: Die if we don't!
Lʏsɪsᴛʀᴀᴛᴀ: Then - ɴᴏ sʟᴇᴇᴘɪɴɢ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇᴍ. Total abstinence.
Why do you turn away? Where are you going?
Why do you bite your lips and shake your heads,
Turn pale and start to snivel? Will you do it,
Or won't you? Well?
At first her plan is met with a resounding "no", but Lysistrata manages to persuade the women, telling them -
Women - what an utterly rotten lot
We are! It's not surprising tragedies
Are written about us, nothing but beds and cradles,
Always the same old serial, men and babies.
She goes on to elaborate on her plan:
Look here. We sit indoors, all tarted up,
In our most transparent things and obviously sexy,
We get the men worked up, bee-lined for bed,
And then when it comes to the point - walk out on them.
They'll make a treaty at once - you know they will.
Reluctantly the women agree, and a contingent of women have been sent to the Acropolis to seize control of the treasury. Lysistrata and the other women go to join them and there a showdown between the men and the women takes place. The men bring fire to smoke the women out, but the women have brought water. A great war of words begins, and the other men of the city go to the Acropolis to see what is happening and some of the women's husbands join them. Kinesias arrives to berate his wife Myrrhine and after a brief exchange he promises to stop the war at once if only she'll come home with him. She pretends to consent and, obviously aroused, Kinesias takes her to Pan's Cave. Myrrhine stalls all the way through, frustrating her husband further, and then leaves him (I have to say at this point - if Ovid wrote Lysistrata the play would be over in a heartbeat).

Then the Spartan herald arrives, apparently 'with a spear under his cloak' (the tone so far of Aristophanes plays leaves us in no doubt what the spear truly is!). The Athenian ambassador and Spartan ambassador meet and Lysistrata helps them reach a peace agreement. The goddess of Reconciliation arrives, naked, and the who ambassadors lust after her whilst also agreeing peace.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy, particularly bawdy, and on the whole great fun - a very cheerful play, no doubt much needed in Athens during the war. Lysistrata is a strong character who through her actions brings peace, but one cannot avoid the sexual stereotyping throughout the play. Men don't get much more of a sympathetic portrayal either it should be noted - they appear quite foolish and obsessed with sex. Women in Aristophanes play are too sex-obsessed. It was a time, as Aristophanes writes, that women were viewed as powerless, vulnerable, in need of male protection, and concerned with the home and children. But, as he shows, women too are sexual beings. On the other hand, Lysistrata who gains more respect from the officials, seems less sexual. Whatever the case, it is very interesting and enlightening to see women have a central role in a Greek play in which no one is murdered horribly, and it says a lot about the role and lives of women in 5th Century B.C. Athens.

As for illustrations - there are some by Aubrey Beardsley from about 1896 which can be viewed here (it's probably best not to view them if you're at work or have young children peering over your shoulder). But for this post, here's a selection of illustrations by Notor (Vicomte Gabriel de Roton) for the 1898 French edition of Lysistrata:








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Further Reading

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