Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Trojan Women by Euripides.

Cassandra
by Evelyn de Morgan (1898).
Since April of this year I've been focusing on the plays of Euripides and I've now reached the tenth (out of nineteen) - The Trojan Women (Τρῳάδες) which was first performed in 415 B.C. This is now one of my favourites.

It's set in the aftermath of the Trojan War and focuses on three women - Cassandra, Hecuba, and Andromache, all of whom are familiar characters for me: Cassandra was the enslaved lover of Agamemnon, both of whom were killed by Agamemnon's wife Clytaemnestra (as told in Aeschylus' Agamemnon, 458 B.C.), Hecuba was the wife of Priam whose sons were all killed in the Trojan War, and too the mother of Polyxena, her daughter who was sacrificed (told in Hecuba by Euripides, 424 B.C.) and Cassandra, and finally Andromache, the wife of Hector (killed by Achilles) who was enslaved by Neoptolemus (told in Andromache by Euripides, 428 - 425 B.C. and also Racine's Andromaque, 1667, which I'm planning on reading very soon). In Euripides' The Trojan Women he begins immediately after the Fall of Troy (just two days after), described by Poseidon (who had helped build the walls of Troy) and Athena who is furious after Ajax the Lesser (not to be confused with the famous Ajax, the hero of the Trojan War who later killed himself, as told in Sophocles' Ajax, 450 - 4350 B.C.) dragged Cassandra from Athena's temple, possibly raping her, without punishment, an insult to Athena who had been instrumental in the winning of the Trojan War. They decide to punish the Greeks by destroying the fleet on their way home.

The play switches to the Trojan women, firstly Hecuba who is told she is to be the slave of Odysseus and her daughter Cassandra to be the concubine of Agamemnon. Cassandra, whose stability has been greatly undermined with the stress of the situation, foresees her own death at the hand of Clytaemnestra. Finally Andromache, the wife of Hecuba's son Hector, is to be the concubine of Neoptolemus, and she prays she may be allowed to keep her son Astyanax. She is told by the Greek herald Talthybius however that Astyanax will be thrown from the wall of Troy for fear that he will grow up and seek to avenge his father's death, and she is further warned that if she curses the ships her son will not be buried. So, instead, she curses Helen as Hecuba did before her, blaming her for the war. 

Helen of Troy
by Evelyn de Morgan (1898).
There is no hope for the women: Hecuba will become the slave of Odysseus, Cassandra will be taken by Agamemnon and later murdered, and Andromache's baby is indeed killed. Helen is seen; her husband Menelaus plans to take her back to Greece and kill her but she begs for her life and claims she was bewitched by the goddess Cypris (Aphrodite), a claim which Hecuba warns Menelaus is false (the Greek audience knows, however, Menelaus will not ultimately kill her).

The ships begin to leave. Andromache had wished to bury her son but her ship had already sailed, and so it is left to Hecuba who, after the burial, attempts suicide but is stopped by the soldiers and she too sets sail for Greece. Cassandra has already been taken by this stage.

The Trojan Women is a brutal play that depicts the horrors of war, specifically the aftermath: even when the war is won, even after the deaths of many soldiers, the pain and the injustice continue. The Trojan women - Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache, and Helen are all very different from each other (though Hecuba, Cassandra, and Andromache are all related either by blood or marriage) yet they each suffer. This is clearly not one of Euripides' patriotic plays, like The Suppliants (423 B.C.) or The Heracleidae (429 B.C.). It does feel a rather chaotic read, but that's very appropriate given its subject matter. I've read it's not a favourite of Euripides' fans for the perceived lack of cohesion but I thought it was an astonishingly forceful play and, as I said at the beginning, now one of my favourites, perhaps even usurping Medea! I look forward to reading it again!

And so I am now over half-way through reading Euripides' plays. What's left:
  • Iphigenia in Tauris (414 B.C.)
  • Ion (414 B.C.)
  • Helen (412 B.C.)
  • Phoenician Women (410 B.C.)
  • Orestes (408 B.C.)
  • Cyclops (408 B.C.)
  • Bacchae (405 B.C.)
  • Iphigenia at Aulis (405 B.C.)
  • Rhesus (date unknown)

I'm most looking forward to Orestes because I love that myth and Bacchae as I've heard it said it's his absolute greatest. Next week however - Iphigenia in Tauris.

♔♔♔

The Plays of Euripides

The Suppliants | Electra | Heracles | The Trojan Women | Iphigenia in Tauris 

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge written in 1797 - 1798 and first published in 1798 in Lyrical Ballads by Coleridge and William Wordsworth. It's actually the first Coleridge poem I've read - I have somewhat of an aversion to the Romantic poets, not because I don't like them but because I can never seem to quite get to grips with them!

The poem, divided into seven parts, begins at a wedding reception. A young man is stopped by an old sailor, the ancient mariner, who begins to tell a young man his story, and in the beginning the young man doesn't actually want to hear it:
He holds him with his skinny hand,
'There was a ship,' quoth he.
'Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!'
Eftsoons his hand dropt he. 
He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will. 
The Mariner continues and tells him of how he sailed to the Antarctic, the journey initially appearing to be an easy passage turns dangerous as a storm arrives,
And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.  
The ship struggles, but from the skies appears an Albatross (one of the largest sea birds with a wing span of 12 feet) -
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name. 
Nevertheless by the end of Part I, the Mariner kills the bird - "With my cross-bow / I shot the ALBATROSS". Part II sees the crew understandably furious with the Mariner, believing the bird had brought them good luck, and indeed the Mariner himself regrets it:
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow! 
But the weather stays fine and the Mariner is soon forgiven. However things take a turn for the worse, the weather in fact is so calm the ship is unable to move:
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean. 
The sailors blame the Mariner, believing he has brought bad luck by killing the bird and so they make him wear it around his neck as penance - "Instead of the cross, the albatross / About my neck was hung".

Their curse continues: the ship by another ship captained by Death and the "Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH":
Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold. 
The deadly pair play dice for the men's souls: Death wins the men's souls and thus kills them, and 'Nightmare Life-in-Death' wins the Mariner.
Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one. 
Part IV sees the Mariner live this nightmare, surrounded by death and "the rotting sea". Eventually however the curse begins to lift and:
The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea. 
The dead men rise and the ship begins to move again:
Yet never a breeze up-blew;
The mariners all 'gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools—
We were a ghastly crew. 
He then tells the wedding guest the men had not come back to life but had been possessed by spirits, "a troop of spirits blest". In a daze the Mariner then hears two spirits discussing his fate, deciding "'The man hath penance done, / And penance more will do.'" Eventually the Mariner sees his homeland and a hermit who sees his ship approaching sails out to meet it. He climbs aboard the hermit's boat and the ship is sunk in a whirlpool. The boat reaches land and the Mariner, still cursed, leaves and is forced to wander alone telling people his tale. The wedding guest is left "A sadder and a wiser man".

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a strange tale indeed and though I enjoyed reading it I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. It has echoes of The Odyssey and the Aeneid, and it seems to warn or tell of violating nature's own laws and the inevitable retribution that will follow, as well as ideas of retribution, impulsiveness, guilt, and loneliness. And it has the hallmarks of the Romantics - the supernatural and the themes of nature. I really did love it, but it's a tough one!

That was my twenty-second title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - What Pleases the Ladies by Voltaire.


Friday, 27 May 2016

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.

Lark Rise to Candleford is a trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels by Flora Thompson: Lark Rise was first published in 1939, Over the Candleford in 1941, and Candleford Green in 1943, and then the complete / combined edition in 1945. I liked it a lot, but I must admit it was a rather curious reading experience.

It begins with a portrait of rural life in the late 19th Century in the hamlet of Lark Rise, based upon Juniper Hill on  the Oxfordshire / Buckinghamshire border where Thompson grew up. Here she writes about rural poverty in the Home Counties but it is far from bleak - it's from a child's perspective, a child who knows no better or worse circumstances and who accepts the life and had learned to find the beauty and pleasure when and where it is available. It's a peaceful community and a time when life was in keeping with the changes of the season, a time which has now died out and, even in Thompson's day was on the decline (for this there's an air of Thomas Hardy in her writing; the early, less gloomy Hardy that is). There's always a promise in Lark Rise that Laura and her family may visit the neighbouring town Candleford (based on Bicester, again in Oxfordshire, and Buckingham, Brackley and Banbury in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire respectively), which they eventually do (after years of promises), and finally, as a young adult, Laura leaves the hamlet of Lark Rise and goes to live and work in the post office in Candleford Green, a small village based on Fringford.

Illustration by Helen Allingham for
Lark Rise to Candleford.
It is a nostalgic book, published during the Second World War when England faced not only the upheaval of the war but the great social change associated with it. The late 19th century when Queen Victoria reigned represented a period of stability which had begun to noticeably fracture. Flora Thompson closely observes these details of country life and weaves them into her fictional account, but it doesn't read like a traditional novel, more of a description of a way of life and of growing up which she writes about beautifully, almost like an odyssey, her literal passage with her brother, her walk from Lark Rise to Candleford. It yearns for simpler times in her childhood and young adulthood; Flora's brother Edwin (her favourite brother) was killed near Ypres in 1916. But the same time the difficulties she and her family faced in such impoverished circumstances is not shied away from.

It's a beautiful book, sweet at times, great characters, and wonderfully detailed: her powers of observation and memory are keen and we learn not only about Flora Thompson but the ways, the life, the rituals and celebrations of a time gone by. I loved reading it once I'd settled into it's rather curious style. 

*******
Further Reading

Thursday, 26 May 2016

La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola.

The Swedish front cover of Ábbe Mouret's
Felsteg
(La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret) by Émile Zola,

designed by Arthur Sjögren and published by
Fröléen & Co. (1911).
La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret, known also as The Sin of Abbé Mouret and Abbé Mouret's Transgression, is the fifth novel in Émile Zola's 'Rougon Macquart' series (following The Conquest of Plassans) and was first published in 1875.

Zola's two main intentions for each of the Rougon Macquart novels was to write about each of the Rougon Macquart family and to write about that character in the context of the Second French Empire (1852 - 1870). In La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret Zola writes about Serge Mouret, whose family tree is a little complicated: he is the son of François and Marthe Mouret (cousins who married - François is the son of Ursule Mouret, daughter of Macquart and Adélaïde Rougon, and Marthe is the daughter of Pierre and Félicité Rougon; Pierre is the son of Rougon and Adélaïde Rougon). Serge was first introduced in The Conquest of Plassans as a minor character and he is the brother of Octave Mouret (the main character of Pot Luck, 1882, and The Ladies' Paradise, 1883) and Désirée Mouret (who, again, we first met in The Conquest of Plassans). The novel is set in around 1866 (largely in the month of May, the month dedicated to the Virgin Mary), about the same time as The Ladies' Paradise (and Money come to that, but let's not further complicate matters!).

That was a rather complicated introduction! I do apologise, but when one of Zola's intentions was to write about the laws of heredity it is, for the overall context of his Rougon Macquart novels, important to have a little background. His words, in the preface of The Fortune of the Rougons (1871), were -
My aim is to explain how a family, a small group of human beings, behaves in a given society after blossoming forth and giving birth to ten or twenty individuals who, though they may seem at first glance totally dissimilar from each other, are, as analysis shows, linked together in the most profound ways. Heredity, like gravity, has its laws. 
This is one of the things he does, and the other, to write about Catholicism both as a general concept and within the Second French Empire. He wrote in 1868 his plans for this novel -
I shall address... the great struggle between nature and religion. The love-smitten priest has never, I believe, been studied humanly, There's a great dramatic subject there, especially if one gave heredity influences full play.
A cartoon of Émile Zola by Albert Robida for
la Vie Parisienne (August 1888).
Serge Mouret, the "love-smitten priest", at the end of The Conquest of Plassans has taken his orders and become a priest, and at the beginning of La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret we see him in the small village of Artauds which is largely uninterested in religion, and we see a very enthusiastic sermon preached to an almost empty church interrupted in the end by his sister Désirée celebrating some newly-hatched chicks. He later meets his uncle Pascal Rougon (who features in the final novel Doctor Pascal, 1893) and together they go to attend Jeanbernat who, the night before, had a stroke. There Serge meets his daughter Albine, with whom Serge will soon have an affair.

It is, as Zola wrote in his notes,
The story of a man neutered by his early education who recovers his manhood at twenty-five through the solicitations of nature but fatally sinks back into an impotent state.
The Catholic Church is portrayed at an unnatural and unhealthy institution; Albine, its opposite and indeed nemesis, represents a natural almost wild and pagan state. By straying or rejecting the doctrine of Catholicism Serge is able to live a healthy life. As a contrast with the physical church building there is the garden where Albine and Serge conduct their affair, full of flowers and animals, a wild and natural state in which they unwittingly act out the Garden of Eden myth, Serge as Adam and Albine as Eve. Another contrast is with Serge is with his brother Octave: Frederick Brown writes in his Zola: A Life (1995) that both Zola and Paul Cézanne were very impressed by the myth of Hercules at a crossroads trying to decide whether to follow the path of virtue or pleasure (told in  Xenophon's Memorabilia (4th Century B.C.). Octave chooses pleasure, and ultimately Serge chooses virtue.

I think La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret is one of Zola's greatest works, certainly one of his greatest earlier works. I read the translation by Vizetelly and usually don't shy off denouncing his translations, but in this instance I really did enjoy it. Even so Zola scholars do warn that it is full of errors and omissions (both generally and within Abbé Mouret's Transgression). It is "intoxicating" (as Hippolyte Taine wrote), full of mysticism, religious and pagan imagery, and a stunning description of flowers and their scent. Underneath it all it is a unabashed criticism of Catholicism where Serge Mouret must decide between nature and religion.

John Collier's painting (1895) inspired by Zola's La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret. For more information on the painting,
which contains spoilers for Zola's novel, click here.
*******
Further Reading

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A New Way to Pay Old Debts by Philip Massinger (and a note on Betsy Baker).

1904 edition of A New Way to Pay Old Debts.

It's a long-term goal of mine to read more English Renaissance plays. So far I've read The Shoemaker's Holiday by Thomas Dekker (1599), A Woman Killed With Kindness by Thomas Heywood (1603), two Christopher Marlowe plays, Dido, Queen of Carthage (1586) and Edward II (1592), Kynge Johan by John Bale (1561) and now A New Way to Pay Old Debts by Philip Massinger (1625).

Philip Massinger was an English dramatist born in Wiltshire in 1583-84 and eventually making his way to London in around 1606 having left Oxford University without a degree (presumably because his father died in 1603 and he was without financial assistance). Little is known about these early days, but it's thought he was in prison in 1613 for debt and bailed out by Philip Henslowe, who he later described as "a true, loving friend". Massinger's first play was a collaboration with John Fletcher - Sir John van Olden Barnavelt (1619) and his first solo play was The Maid of Honour (1621). A New Way to Pay Old Debts came four years and seven plays later. As for his other plays - now, here's a story (which would make a rather good play in itself): there was a man called John Warburton who (in the 18th Century) enjoyed collecting old books and manuscripts. Problem was he was a careless chap and amassed many of them in his kitchen. One day he went to his kitchen to retrieve the manuscripts and discovered his cook, Betsy Baker, had used them all for lighting fires and lining baking tins. Over a dozen Massinger plays were lost, a Marlowe play too (The Maiden's Holiday), two Shakespeares (Duke Humphrey and Henry I), Greene, Davenport, Rowley, Dekker... some of the biggest names of English Renaissance Drama, in short and at least fifty manuscripts of this period were lost (a complete list can be found here). Warburton said of the travesty,
After I had been many years collecting these manuscript plays, through my own carelessness and the ignorance of my servant, in whose hands I lodged them, they was unluckily burnt or put under pie bottoms.
Only three plays survived: The Second Maiden's Tragedy (George Chapman or Thomas Middleton), The Queen of Corsica by Francis Jaques, and The Bugbears by John Jeffere.

Portrait of Edmund Kean as Sir Giles Overreach (1818).
Back to A New Way to Pay Old Debts: it is set in rural Nottinghamshire and concerns the misfortunes of Frank Welborn who, at the beginning of the play, is forcibly ejected from his local tavern by the host and hostess Tapwell and Froth. Tom Allworth arrives during the argument between the three, and we learn that both Allworth and Welborn are victims of one of the greatest villains of all time (after Betsy Baker, I mean) - the avariocious Sir Giles Overreach, a "cruel extortioner" as he is described in the dramatis personae, and his men Jack Marall and Justice Greedy. To him Welborn has lost his estate and Allworth has been forced to work as a page to Lord Lovell. His mother, however (a widow) has retained her country home and is frequently visited by suitors including Overreach. Welborn visits her and asks a favour, reminding her of his friendship with his late husband. She consents to this favour (said in a whisper - all we know at this point is that it is not a request for a loan; we later learn it is simply to be received into her company as a gentleman) and he leaves.

Meanwhile Overreach has plans to marry off his daughter Margaret to Lord Lovell, however she is in love with Allworth (Lovell is aware of his and has promised to assist the lovers), and, to complicate things, Overreach has seen Welborn leave the company of Lady Allworth and assumes he is her suitor. Were he to marry Lady Allworth, Overreach would, he believes, he able to extort even more money out of him, and so, to help him in his 'quest' he gives Welborn £1,000. Marall, a contractor and one of Overreach's associates, sees this so-called impending marriage in a different light and decides he would be much better off being friends with Welborn over Overreach so he drops Overreach.

When it is revealed that Margaret and Allworth have married (through tricking her father into supplying a note of consent to the clergyman) Overreach flies into a rage, and he demands that Welborn return the £1,000. Welborn, now with the great advantage of not only having the aforementioned sum but also Marall as an ally, refuses and demands all his land back. Overreach eventually goes mad and is institutionalised, Lady Allworth and Lord Lovell marry, and they all agree to return use the money from Overreach's estate to make reparations to all of his former victims.

A New Way to Pay Old Debts is good fun, not easy but then Renaissance Comedy is my nemesis, but it does have an edge of seriousness to it in Massinger's absolute hatred of the likes of Overreach and his ilk. Overreach himself was said to be based on Giles Mompesson, a member of parliament and fellow-Wiltshire man, who was imprisoned for corruption around the time Massinger wrote his play. Sir Giles Overreach was, at the time, a remarkable character - not a corrupt king or cruel god, but a man who could cross paths with us at any given time, with some of his chilling observations such as,
... 'tis enough I keep
Greedy [his associate] at my devotion: so he serve
My purposes, let him hang or damn, I care not;
Friendship is but a word.
This is one of the many reasons why he was regarded as one of the greatest villains in literature.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Heracles by Euripides.

Hercules Vanquishing The Hydra Of Lerma 
by Guido Reni (1620).
I've been looking forward to reading Euripides' Heracles ever since I read Sophocles' play Women of Trachis (early 400s B.C.) about the death of Heracles, killed inadvertently by his wife Deianeira. In Euripides' play Heracles (Ἡρακλῆς μαινόμενος), first performed around 416 B.C.) he tells the story of Heracles and his first wife Megara. 

It begins with a monologue by Amphitryon, the mortal father of Heracles, who tells the audience of Heracles' genealogical history and that he, Amphitryon, is the son of Alcaeus, and Alcmene, his wife, is the mother of Heracles. Heracles' true father is Zeus. He goes on to tell the audience about Lycus, the unlawful King of Thebes, who is planning to kill Amphitryon and Heracles' wife Megara, the daughter of Creon (the lawful king of Thebes; Creon is the dreaded king of Thebes in Sophocles' Theban Plays and Euripides' earlier play The Suppliants), and their children.

Heracles, however, cannot save them. Before the action of the play begins, he was engaged by King Eurystheus of Argos to perform twelve labours; by the time begins he is on his final mission, to capture Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the Underworld (in Theogony Hesiod describes him as "Unspeakable Cerberus, who eats raw flesh, / The bronze-voiced hound of Hades, shameless, strong, With fifty heads."). His family, then, are left and they take refuge at the altar of Zeus.

Heracles and Cerberus by Peter Paul Rubens (1636).
Lycus appears and asks them,
How long do ye seek to prolong your lives? What hope, what succour do ye see to save you from death? Do you trust that these children's father, who lies dead in the halls of Hades, will return? 
This claim that Heracles is already dead is false, and Amphitryon, Megara, and the children remain unmoved, and so Lycus orders the burning down of the temple. Megara, believing been burned alive in such a manner would be a coward's death, asks that she may dress herself and the children in an appropriate dress and be executed. He consents and they prepare, greatly moving the Chorus. However Heracles appears - he tells them he was delayed as he also rescued Theseus from the Underworld. They tell him of Creon's overthrow and Lycus' plans to execute them, and when Lycus returns to execute Megara and the children Heracles intervenes and kills him.

Before I continue, there's another back story to explain: as Amphitryon said in the prologue, Heracles is the son of Zeus and Alcmene: Zeus' wife is Hera, notoriously and frequently acting out revenge on the lovers and illegitimate offspring of her husband. Heracles is no exception, and Iris is sent down to tell Heracles of Hera's plans to drive him mad and kill his children. Poor Heracles is indeed driven mad and he believes he has killed Eurystheus, and to avoid Eurystheus killing him out of revenge, he has killed them too: in his madness, however, he has actually killed Megara and his own children, and had Athena not intervened he would have killed Amphitryon too. When he learns of his actions Heracles is dismayed and vows to kill himself.

However the good King Theseus arrives and though shocked remains friends with Heracles and takes him to Athens as Amphitryon is left to bury the dead (the law would have prohibited Heracles from doing so). The play ends with the Chorus chanting,
With grief and many a bitter tear we go our way, robbed of all we prized most dearly.
This is a great and powerful play. Megara and Heracles both suffer from the actions of those greater than them - Megara from Lycus and Heracles from Hera. It's interesting to compare the two - Lycus is a mortal and Hera a goddess, yet both inflict pain and provoke fear from an innocent. Ultimately Hera, surely, is responsible for the death of Megara, and though Heracles is unwilling to believe this and takes responsibility for himself the more reasonable Theseus points to the pain and chaos the gods inflict on mankind, which, largely, goes unpunished. Heracles is a great deal more of a sympathetic character than he was in Sophocles' Women of Trachis, and Euripides, through Heracles, asks the question,
Who would pray to such a goddess? Her jealousy of Zeus for his love of a woman hath destroyed the benefactors of Hellas, guiltless though they were.
It is interesting, at this stage of the 5th Century B.C. that Euripides would portray the gods in such a chaotic and vengeful manner whereas, a little later, Sophocles would suggest they were more orderly and, most importantly, had their own plans for mankind.

I loved reading Heracles and I do think that Euripides' plays get better and better. I'm looking forward to reading The Trojan Women next!

The Lovers by Giulio Romano (1525).
It's possible in this painting the two lovers represent Zeus and Alcmene.
♔♔♔

The Plays of Euripides

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Profitable Reading of Fiction by Thomas Hardy.

For this week's Deal Me In I drew 'The Profitable Reading of Fiction' by Thomas Hardy. As it happens I am very much behind on my Hardy essays (I had aimed to have read six by now: I've only read two), and the reason why I've been resisting Hardy's essays is that Hardy, in my mind, was no essay writer. I find them excruciating reads. They lack the beautiful flow seen in Woolf's essays and the confidence and assertion of Samuel Johnson in his essays, and Hardy's sentences, to use his very own words (albeit on a different matter): "put he it never so awkwardly". An unfortunate sentence, an unfortunate arrangement of words, that sum-up the Hardy essay reading experience.

On, then, to 'The Profitable Reading of Fiction' which was first published in the Forum in March 1888 (the same year as Hardy's Wessex Tales which I plan on reading in the next week or so). In this Hardy considers what he views as the "timeless theme" of the benefits of reading novels. He begins by defining "good" as something pleasurable (though this, he acknowledges, is not the sole definition of "good"). What is good or what is enjoyable will naturally vary from one to the next -
 The town man finds what he seeks in novels of the country, the countryman in novels of society, the indoor class generally in outdoor novels, the villager in novels of the mansion, the aristocrat in novels of the cottage.
A novel, in terms of being enjoyable, must in this instance be absorbing "if not absolutely fascinating", but to achieve this kind of escapism one must put one's whole faith into the author: "the author should be swallowed whole, like any other alliterative pill". By doing so one exercises "generous imaginativeness" and is able to profit simply be enjoyment.

Another way of 'profiting' is gleaning certain facts from a book -
 Excursions into various philosophies, which vary or delay narrative proper, may have more attraction than the regular course of the enactment; the judicious inquirer may be on the look-out for didactic reflection, such as is found in large lumps in Rasselas; he may be a picker-up of trifles of useful knowledge, statistics, queer historic fact, such as sometimes occur in the pages of Hugo; he may search for specimens of the manners of good or bad society, such as are to be obtained from the fashionable writers; or he may even wish to brush up his knowledge of quotations from ancient and other authors by studying some chapters of Pelham and the disquisitions of Parson Adams in Joseph Andrews.
The aim in this, "is a lesson in life, mental enlargement from elements essential to the narratives themselves and from the reflections they engender". Hardy goes on to write there is to be discovered universal truths in a wide historical range and,
Whether we hold the arts which depict mankind to be, in the words of Mr. Matthew Arnold, a criticism of life, or, in those of Mr. Addington Symonds, a revelation of life, the material remains the same, with its sublimities, its beauties, its uglinesses, as the case may be.  the finer manifestations must precede in importance the meaner, without such a radical change in human nature as we can hardly conceive as pertaining to an even remote future of decline, and certainly do not recognize now.
He goes on to note that modern novels with their sentiments and moralising cannot compare to the old classics, and "In this scarcity of excellence in novels as wholes the reader must content himself with excellence in parts". By reading the old classics we learn the difference between 'temporary' and 'eternal truths', and by reading one becomes more 'humanised' and illuminated.

Enjoyment, education, and empathy may all be learned from the reading of novels, but as Hardy notes at the end not all are capable of much more than the idle passing of time,
But, as with the horse and the stream in the proverb, no outside power can compel or even help a reader to gain good from such reading unless he has some natural eye for the finer qualities in the best productions of this class.
He concludes with the biting observation that it is these idle and superficial readers that become the most vocal critics,
What author has not had his experience of such readers?--the mentally and morally warped ones of both sexes, who will, when practicable, so twist plain and obvious meanings as to see in an honest picture of human nature an attack on religion, morals, or institutions.  Truly has it been observed that "the eye sees that which it brings with it the means of seeing."
Hardy's essays are, as I've said, exceptionally hard work. I dislike them more than I can say and get very little from them. For this reason I have to admit defeat: I have thirteen Hardy essays listed in my Thomas Hardy challenge and this is now only my third. I cannot read another ten - it is the most miserable experience reading them and then trying to find something to say afterwards! As my Hardy challenge was never meant to be a 'complete works' challenge, as Hardy is more noted for his novels and poetry, as I am in no way enlightened by the ones I've read so far, and as these essays make reading Hardy a pitiful experience, I must give up the essay part of that challenge. The idea of reading ten more could make me weep. So on that note I'm going to replace the final Hardy title of the Deal Me In with a Woolf essay and make this the last Thomas Hardy essay I will read or write about in the foreseeable future. Perhaps one day, far far into the future, I'll change my mind and return to them, but for now I'm much happier for my decision!

And that was my ill-fated twenty-first title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge - this will be my first Coleridge!

Until then, apologies for being so very negative. I'm not usually quite so unforgiving with books.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Chapters VI - VIII of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

In May 1836 the third instalment of The Pickwick Papers came out, and, following the death of Robert Seymour in April 1836 this instalment was illustrated by Robert William Buss. I've found six of his illustrations (included in this post), however only two were used by the publisher. Furthermore, Charles Dickens didn't like Buss' etchings (it must be said Buss was not trained in etching on steel), so the poor chap was dropped. Adding insult to a humiliating injury, when the instalments were reissued after a sudden surge in readership, Buss' illustrations were dropped entirely and replaced by George Hablot Browne's (a.k.a. Phiz), to which poor Buss remarked,
I am, after all, sometimes amused to think how in time to come futile bibliomaniacs will rave over a scarce copy of Pickwick having in it my two unfortunate etchings.
I'll say a little more on Buss later, but for now I will use for this post his two illustrations and include the rest at the end of the post. Now, to Chapter VI:

Chapter VI
An Old-Fashioned Card-Party. The Clergyman's Verses. 
The Story of the Convict's Return.

[N.B. There are no illustrations either by Phiz or Buss for the 6th chapter as far as I can find]

We left the Pickwickians in Chapter V having just arrived at Dingley Dell after a somewhat tumultuous journey. They cleaned themselves up, enjoyed a cherry brandy, and were welcomed by Mr. Wardle. Chapter VI begins with the Pickwickians meeting the other guests, Mr. Pickwick enjoying observing the guests, and speculating -
... upon the characters and pursuits, of the persons by whom he was surrounded—a habit in which he, in common with many other great men, delighted to indulge.
First, "A very old lady, in a lofty cap and faded silk gown" - she is Wardle's mother (a deaf and somewhat cantankerous old woman) - then the aunt and the two young ladies we met in the previous instalment, a clergyman and his wife, and
A little hard-headed, Ripstone pippin-faced man, was conversing with a fat old gentleman in one corner; and two or three more old gentlemen, and two or three more old ladies, sat bolt upright and motionless on their chairs, staring very hard at Mr. Pickwick and his fellow-voyagers.
They settle into a game of cards, and then the clergyman recites a poem on ivy - 'The Ivy Green'. I'll quote the first of three verses (it can be read in full on Poetry Foundation) -
Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o'er ruins old!
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,
In his cell so lone and cold.
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,
To pleasure his dainty whim;
And the mouldering dust that years have made,
Is a merry meal for him.
Creeping where no life is seen,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.
Mr. Snodgrass, of course, jots it all down. And after, Mr. Pickwick, certain the old gentleman has some interesting stories to tell, tries to draw him out a little more.
Excuse me, sir, for making the remark on so short an acquaintance; but a gentleman like yourself cannot fail, I should think, to have observed many scenes and incidents worth recording, in the course of your experience as a minister of the Gospel.
Mr. Wardle, further encouraging him, mentions a John Edmunds. Who is John Edmunds? His tale is told in this chapter under the title 'The Convict's Return'. In this we hear the sad story of Edmunds who was sentenced to fourteen years for theft. On his return home he found his mother had died and his father in the workhouse:
His dress denoted him an inmate of the workhouse: he had the appearance of being very old, but it looked more the effect of dissipation or disease, than the length of years.
The two get into a furious argument and the old man ruptured a blood vessel and promptly died. Chapter VI concludes,
'In that corner of the churchyard,' said the old gentleman, after a silence of a few moments, 'in that corner of the churchyard of which I have before spoken, there lies buried a man who was in my employment for three years after this event, and who was truly contrite, penitent, and humbled, if ever man was. No one save myself knew in that man's lifetime who he was, or whence he came—it was John Edmunds, the returned convict.'
It may be interesting at this point to note that workhouses may have been very much on the mind of the readers of The Pickwick Papers. In April 1836 the workhouse in Heckingham (Norfolk) had been deliberately burned down as a protest - it was known to be corrupt and disorderly (more information can be found here including a report by Dr. James Kay).


Chapter VII
How Mr. Winkle, Instead of Shooting at the Pigeon and Killing the Crow, Shot at the Crow and Wounded the Pigeon; How the Dingley Dell Cricket Club Played All-Muggleton, and How All-Muggleton Dined at the Dingley Dell Expense; With Other Interesting and Instructive Matters.

"The Cricket Match: Dingley Dell Against All-Muddleton"
by Robert Buss.
As in previous chapters, Pickwick awakes in Chapter VII early to a bright morning -
The fatiguing adventures of the day or the somniferous influence of the clergyman's tale operated so strongly on the drowsy tendencies of Mr. Pickwick, that in less than five minutes after he had been shown to his comfortable bedroom he fell into a sound and dreamless sleep, from which he was only awakened by the morning sun darting his bright beams reproachfully into the apartment. Mr. Pickwick was no sluggard, and he sprang like an ardent warrior from his tent-bedstead.
Here, I must quote in full, a beautiful description of late spring -
The rich, sweet smell of the hay-ricks rose to his chamber window; the hundred perfumes of the little flower-garden beneath scented the air around; the deep-green meadows shone in the morning dew that glistened on every leaf as it trembled in the gentle air; and the birds sang as if every sparkling drop were to them a fountain of inspiration. Mr. Pickwick fell into an enchanting and delicious reverie.
His reverie is interrupted by Mr. Wardle intent on going rook-shooting. It is not a success, and "Mr. Tupman had saved the lives of innumerable unoffending birds by receiving a portion of the charge in his left arm." He is carried back to the house and cared for by the initially hysterical aunt Rachael as the rest of the Pickwickians leave to attend a cricket match where they once again encounter the stranger from Chapter II. At least we learn his name -
'Jingle,' said that versatile gentleman, taking the hint at once. 'Jingle—Alfred Jingle, Esq., of No Hall, Nowhere.'
The match takes place and the All-Muggleton team win decisively (very decisively) and the Dingley Dell team buy them dinner, drinking ensues, and by the end of Chapter VII they're all singing,
'We won't go home till morning,
We won't go home till morning,
We won't go home till morning,
Till daylight doth appear.'


Chapter VIII
Strongly Illustrative of the Position, That the Course of True Love Is Not a Railway

"The Fat Boy Awake on this Occasion Only"
by Robert Buss.
But what of Tupman? Our romantic hero, having been shot in the arm, remains in the care of Rachael:
The quiet seclusion of Dingley Dell, the presence of so many of the gentler sex, and the solicitude and anxiety they evinced in his behalf, were all favourable to the growth and development of those softer feelings which nature had implanted deep in the bosom of Mr. Tracy Tupman, and which now appeared destined to centre in one lovely object. The young ladies were pretty, their manners winning, their dispositions unexceptionable; but there was a dignity in the air, a touch-me-not-ishness in the walk, a majesty in the eye, of the spinster aunt, to which, at their time of life, they could lay no claim, which distinguished her from any female on whom Mr. Tupman had ever gazed. That there was something kindred in their nature, something congenial in their souls, something mysteriously sympathetic in their bosoms, was evident.
In short, the two go for a walk to the bower, on which climb "honeysuckle, jessamine, and creeping plants—one of those sweet retreats which humane men erect for the accommodation of spiders. He declares his love for her and kisses her, but -
There was the fat boy, perfectly motionless, with his large circular eyes staring into the arbour, but without the slightest expression on his face that the most expert physiognomist could have referred to astonishment, curiosity, or any other known passion that agitates the human breast. Mr. Tupman gazed on the fat boy, and the fat boy stared at him; and the longer Mr. Tupman observed the utter vacancy of the fat boy's countenance, the more convinced he became that he either did not know, or did not understand, anything that had been going forward. 
"The Fat Boy Awake",
Phiz's illustration of the unfortunate moment.
The fat boy, as Robet Buss observed in his illustration, was awake on this occasion only. They are called to supper, and a high spirited supper it is - Dickens dryly observes,
'It wasn't the wine,' murmured Mr. Snodgrass, in a broken voice. 'It was the salmon.' (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases.)
After supper Joe (the Fat Boy) reports to old Mrs. Wardle what has transpired. She is horrified, hilariously so, but we quickly learn that Mr. Jingle has designs on Rachael himself. He tells Mrs. Wardle Tupman is only interested in Rachael for her money (which is true of Jingle, at least), then tells Tupman to drop it all - they have been discovered and Rachael does not wish to pursue their little romance for the moment. He agrees to pass on the message of his undying love and resolve to wait for her (which we know won't be passed on), and then asks to borrow £10. Once more he warns Tupman,
'Be careful,' said Mr. Jingle—'not a look.'
'Not a wink,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Not a syllable.'
'Not a whisper.'
'All your attentions to the niece—rather rude, than otherwise, to the aunt—only way of deceiving the old ones.'
'I'll take care,' said Mr. Tupman aloud.
'And I'll take care,' said Mr. Jingle internally; and they entered the house.
"Wardle and his friends under the influence of
the salmon" by Phiz.
The chapter concludes,
The scene of that afternoon was repeated that evening, and on the three afternoons and evenings next ensuing. On the fourth, the host was in high spirits, for he had satisfied himself that there was no ground for the charge against Mr. Tupman. So was Mr. Tupman, for Mr. Jingle had told him that his affair would soon be brought to a crisis. So was Mr. Pickwick, for he was seldom otherwise. So was not Mr. Snodgrass, for he had grown jealous of Mr. Tupman. So was the old lady, for she had been winning at whist. So were Mr. Jingle and Miss Wardle, for reasons of sufficient importance in this eventful history to be narrated in another chapter.
Well there's a cliff-hanger! What will transpire between Miss Wardle and Mr. Jingle, and why did Jingle need that £10? I look forward to June's instalment!

And until then, here are those Buss illustrations not included in The Pickwick Papers. There were found in Pictorial Pickwickiana: Charles Dickens and his illustrators by Joseph Grego (1899).

A suggested design for the title page
of The Pickwick Papers by Robert Buss.
"Mr. Pickwick at the Review" by Robert Buss
for the second instalment.
"The Breakdown" for the next instalment,
Chapter IX.
"Mr. Pickwick and his friends under the influence
of Salmon" by Robert Buss for Chapter VIII.

Finally on the subject of Buss - decades later just before his death in 1875 (five years after the death of Dickens) he painted his now famous "Dickens' Dream". Jane R. Cohen wrote of it,
... at last, he had illustrated many of the author’s major characters. In this creative way, Buss tried to overcome, if not obliterate, the painful reality of his short-lived association with Dickens.


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I'm now very much looking forward to June! Is everyone still enjoying this? Please let me know your thoughts :)

Friday, 20 May 2016

Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.

Gulliver's Travels, or, as it was first published, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships, is a novel by Jonathan Swift and was first published in 1726. It's a book I loved reading, but, of all the people I know who have read it, I always seem to be the one to take the least out of it! It is, shall we say, deceptively simple. 

The book is, as the original title suggests, in four parts:
Part I: A Voyage to Lilliput.
Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag.
Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan.
Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms.
It is a satire, firstly, on travel literature, something the 17th and Century was not short on: Samuel Purchas' books of the 17th Century, Edward Terry's A Voyage to East-India (1655), Daniel Defoe's A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain (1724-1727), then later Fielding's Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (1755), Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) and Boswell's The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D (1785), to name but a few. Then came the fictional accounts: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett (1771), A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy by Laurence Sterne (1768), and, of course, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift who, I dare say, got in quite early with his parody.

One can imagine, in the earlier days of travel writing, there were some tall tales told making the writer look rather brave and heroic, and mighty impressive to the reader. This is one the aspects of the travelogue Swift mocked. Our hero Lemuel Gulliver encounters some of the strangest sights and suffers some of the strangest incidents one could possibly imagine. First, to Lilliput, where he finds himself the prisoner of people a mere 6 inches tall, then to Brobdingnag where the inhabitants are some 72 feet tall. In Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan we see Gulliver at the mercy of scientists, and in the Country of the Houyhnhnms he was a surreal stay with the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms. 

By satirising travel literature and presenting such bizarre scenarios Swift was also able to satirise those closer to home. The Liliputians are small both literally and figuratively and they represent petty and small-minded politics. Conversely the Brobdingnags make a dwarf out of Gulliver, and though they are an essentially moral and charitable race they tend to lack empathy - the tiny Gulliver becomes a toy, a figure of entertainment. Over to Laputa - this, the more obvious section of satire, is a warning against rational philosophy and science, and the view that just because it is possible to do something it does not necessarily follow that one ought to do it or feel any benefits from it. It is a soulless nation. Finally to Houyhnhnms, made up of Houyhnhnms and Yahoos, the latter of which are human but behave like depraved animals, which is contrast to the Houyhnhnms who are animals but behave like humans - good and decent humans.

From general satire to the specific, and here is where I am completely out of my depth so I have no choice but to be brief - regarding the first part, Lilliput and Blefuscu: these two nations represent England and France, and in Lilliput the two opposing political parties, the Tramecksan and the Slamecksan represent the Tories and the Whigs. The Emperor of Lilliput, a Slamecksan sympathiser, shares similarities with King George I. Then there are the religious wars, mirroring 16th Century England (I seem to have written a lot about this lately!) and the divisions between Protestants and Catholics (for my interpretation of the divisions see posts on Kynge Johan by John Bale and Book I of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer). Onwards to Brobdingnags - the King of Brobdingnag is said to be based on Sir William Steele (Lord Chancellor of Ireland). Finally the Houyhnhnms are perhaps a critique of the attitude of Britons to other races.

It is, I think, very easy to get lost in Gulliver's Travels. It is multi-layered and intensely complex and asks some of the greatest questions we can ask - the question of the individual within a society, and his rights and limitations, the nature of science and religion, and it's relationship with both society and the individual, and of course the question of the 'other', the unfamiliar territory and races. On a superficial level, though, as a straight novel on the travels of Lemuel Gulliver, it is very entertaining and enjoyable. Not understanding the deeper elements of Gulliver's Travels will perhaps do a disservice to the brilliance of Jonathan Swift, but that does not stop it being a fun experience. 



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