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Showing posts from June, 2016

Chapters IX - XI of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

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June 1836 saw, among many other things, the fourth instalment of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. I am somewhat distracted by the thoughts of what Dickens would have made of June 2016 and the present state of things, but for now I'll wonder silently and press on with Chapters IX - XI.
Chapter IX A Discovery and a Chase.
We left May's instalment with Mr. Jingle wishing to borrow £10 from Mr. Tupman and a promise from Dickens that what transpired between Jingle and Miss Wardle was of  ... sufficient importance in this eventful history to be narrated in another chapter.And here we are, and it is of no surprise that the unscrupulous Jingle has eloped with Miss Wardle. At the news chaos ensues: It was a beautiful sight, in that moment of turmoil and confusion, to behold the placid and philosophical expression of Mr. Pickwick's face, albeit somewhat flushed with exertion, as he stood with his arms firmly clasped round the extensive waist of their corpulent host, thus restraini…

Some thoughts.

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I don't even know how to begin to describe how tumultuous June has been, both personally and politically. It's prudent to gloss over the personal for now, and besides the political has very much taken over! I have so many thoughts and I wanted to put them down, how things have altered, how I personally wish to alter things, and generally try and get a grip of what's happened and what is to happen. 
I wanted to start by describing in a nutshell (as far as possible) what has happened in the United Kingdom for the benefit of those who do not live here and don't fully understand it (for some reason going over it all makes me feel a little better too). Before I do, and I hope this isn't seen as patronising, but if I could explain a few key names because I have seen them used interchangeably:
Great Britain: this is made up of three separate countries: England, Wales, and Scotland. It never fails to amaze me how some London journalists don't appreciate that Scotland is …

The White Devil by John Webster.

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The White Devil is a play by John Webster and was first published in 1612. This is my first Webster - as the title suggests it's a tragedy and I do tend to prefer Renaissance tragedies to comedies. It's roughly based on the murder of Vittoria Accoramboni in 1585; she was an Italian noblewoman who was very much admired. She married Francesco Peretti, the nephew of Cardinal Montalto (who would become Pope Sixtus V in the same year as her death), however Peretti was murdered quite probably by Paolo Giordano I Orsini, Duke of Bracciano (he had murdered his first wife Isabella de' Medici) who had fallen in love with Vittoria. Vittoria went on to marry him. After his death Ludovico Orsini, related to Bracciano, fell out with Vittoria and had her murdered (she was 28). He and his accomplices were later executed.
This story was, not surprisingly, big news at the time and it inspired Webster's The White Devil. The play begins with the banishment of Count Lodovico, accused of deb…

Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf.

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Congenial Spirits is a volume of the selected letters of Virginia Woolf edited by Joanne Trautmann Banks and was first published in 1989. As it happens, I own a very large and intimidating six volume collection of Virginia Woolf's letters but I haven't dared even began thinking about reading them, but Congenial Spirits is a far more concise and approachable collection, a great introduction to the letters of one of the 20th Century's greatest and most important authors.
It begins with letter '0', an undated letter most likely written before she was six: MY DEAR FATHER
WE HAVEENT BATHED YET WE ARE GOING TO TO MORROW WE SANG IN THT TRAIN YOUR LOVING VIRGINIA. [spelling remains uncorrected]Letter 1a was written after 1888 to her mother Julia Stephen (she would have been six years old or thereabouts): My dear Mother,
We went out for a walk with Stella this morning up to the pond and there were a lot of big boats. We cleaned the little room out this morning and we cleaned up …

Zest for Life by Émile Zola.

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Zest for Life (La joie de vivre) is the twelfth novel in Émile Zola's Rougon Macquart novels, was published in 1884 and is also known in English as The Joy of Living, How Jolly Life Is!, and The Joy of Life. In this Zola focuses on Pauline Quenu, the daughter of Lisa Quenu née Macquart, who herself is the daughter of Antoine Macquart and Joséphine Gavaudan and granddaughter of Adélaïde Rougon (Lisa and her husband Quenu's story is told in The Belly of Paris, 1873). Pauline has come to Bonneville in Normandy to stay with her father's relatives the Chanteaus following the death of both Lisa and Quenu, which we learn about early in Zest for Life.

Pauline Quenu is a remarkable Zola character in that she is far and away the nicest character Zola has ever created, and not the saintly fairy tale-like nice that Angélique Rougon would become in The Dream(1888), Pauline is a flawed but genuinely lovely character. It is she who embodies the 'joie de vivre' in the novel. She ar…

Helen by Euripides.

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I'm still working through Euripides plays and I've now reached Helen (Ἑλένη) which was first performed in around 412 B.C. In this Euripides writes about Helen of Troy after the Trojan War, her escape from Egypt: this idea is based on Herodotus' Histories (440 B.C.) in which Herodotus claimed that Helen of Troy had never been in Troy - she had been in Egypt for the duration of the war.
The play begins with a prologue from Helen, who tells the audience of how Hera, Aphrodite, and Athene asked Paris to judge which of them was the most beautiful, however Aphrodite promised him he may marry Helen if he picked her. He did and so Helen was promised to Paris. Hera, however, intervened and produced to Paris an exact likeness of Helen, and Helen herself was taken to Egypt by Hermes thus preserving herself for her husband King Menelaus. After the prologue Teucer arrives (he has been exiled) and tells Helen Menelaus has been killed - drowned on his way home from Troy. His death would m…

On Not Knowing Greek by Virginia Woolf.

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'On Not Knowing Greek' is the third chapter in The Common Reader First Series, first published in 1925. It is not an essay on not knowing the Ancient Greek language - Virginia Woolf learned both Greek and Latin and was able to read the Ancients in the original language. It's more about not knowing the Greek culture, their nuances, and indeed how it was they spoke, how words were pronounced, and how words were delivered. 
The essay begins, For it is vain and foolish to talk of knowing Greek, since in our ignorance we should be at the bottom of any class of schoolboys, since we do not know how the words sounded, or where precisely we ought to laugh, or how the actors acted, and between this foreign people and ourselves there is not only difference of race and tongue but a tremendous breach of tradition. All the more strange, then, is it that we should wish to know Greek, try to know Greek, feel for ever drawn back to Greek, and be for ever making up some notion of the meaning …

Book III (Cantos I -VI) of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.

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Another book, another knight, another theme. Book III of Spenser's The Faerie Queene is about Chastity as told through the story of Britomartis, or Britomart.

Book III is titled: The Third Booke of the  Faerie Qveene. Contayning, The Legend Of Britomartis. Or Of Chastitie.
It begins with the proem in which Spenser writes that the Faerie Queene embodies the virtue of chastity, something which no form of art is truly able to capture. But liuing art may not least part expresse,
Nor life-resembling pencill it can paint,
All were it Zeuxis or Praxiteles:
His daedale hand would faile, and greatly faint,
And her perfections with his error taint:
Ne Poets wit, that passeth Painter farre
In picturing the parts of beautie daint,
So hard a workmanship aduenture darre,
For fear through want of words her excellence to marre.
Guyon encountreth Britomart, faire Florimell is chaced: Duessaes traines and Malecastaes champions are defaced.
The first book begins with Arthur, Guyon and his Palmer meeting Britomart. At firs…

Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.

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The plan for this month was to press on with Shakespeare's histories and finish the Henry VI plays, but after what happened yesterday I don't feel it's wildly appropriate to be writing about political drama and murder so I think I'll leave those for now and pick them back up in July. Instead I turn my attention to another planned read, Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy by William Shakespeare (written around 1598-99). 
I decided to read this play for the Back to the Classics Challenge - 'Re-read a classic you read in school'. Well, I read this when I was 17 and I'm not only shocked at just how much I'd forgotten, but also how many inconsequential lines I seem to have committed to memory. For example, "But few of any sort, and none of name", hardly a line central to the plot or the finest line in the play, yet it jogged my memory. But enough of reminiscences, on with the play!
It is set in Messina in Sicily, and in it Shakespeare tells a complex st…

Ulysses by James Joyce.

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Ulysses is perhaps the most famous under-read novel ever written. It is of course by James Joyce, serialised between 1918 - 1920 in The Little Review and the published in its complete form in 1922. And it's set on 16th June 1904, 112 years ago today, making today Bloomsday - the day when James Joyce and Ulysses fans celebrate the novel with readings, dramatisations, pub crawls, and even dressing up in Edwardian costume. I thought, then, it would be good to read it (I had a sudden urge in May) and say a few words today.

I'll start not with a plot summary but my general feelings. I have a long history with Ulysses - I first read it in 2006, again in 2012, and now 2016 (it took from 22nd May to 9th June). Between 2006 and 2016 I've tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to re-read it; I've always wanted to understand and appreciate Ulysses but have never managed it, but last month I decided to give up trying to understand it: I am not a James Joyce scholar and I haven&#…