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Showing posts from 2017

2017 in Pictures.

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For the previous years I've always tried to write something on the year that's passed, but this year, which on a nation and indeed world-wise level has been very full and tumultuous, I decided instead to let the pictures paint the words. Here's some memorable pictures of some of the main events that really stood out for me from the United Kingdom.
Fireworks in London for the New Year's celebrations (1st January)
The Women's March (21st January)
Keith Palmer’s police helmet at the spot at which he was killed in the Westminster terrorist attack (22nd March)
Sheikh Mohammad al Hilli, Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev Justin Welby, Chief Rabbi Ephriam Mirvis, Sheikh Ezzat Khalifa, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols Archbishop of Westminster attend memorial service following the Westminster attack (24th March)

Article 50 is triggered (29th March)

Saffiyah Khan during an English Defence League rally in Birmingham (10th April)
Theresa May calls a snap election (18th April)
Police …

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck.

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For the past two months I've given myself some very tough reads: Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Bleak House (one of the longest Dickens novels), Dostoyevsky, Malory, and St. Augustine. At the end of it all I gave myself a reward: a re-read of Steinbeck's travelogue Travels with Charley, one of my favourite reads of all time. 
The book was first published in 1962; in it John Steinbeck describes his road trip through America in 1960 accompanied by his poodle Charley. It was undertaken because Steinbeck felt out of touch with the 'new' America, a crime he felt given his novels and indeed his success was based on his knowledge and understanding of his great country. He writes, My plan was clear, concise, and reasonable, I think. For many years I have travelled in many parts of the world. In America I love in New York, or dip into Chicago or San Francisco. But New York is no more America than Paris is France or London is England. Thus I had discovered that I did not know my o…

2018 Challenges.

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We woke up this morning to a winter wonderland: it had snowed hard all last night and this morning so the roads have been closed and we're all of us stuck in the village enjoying an unexpected excuse to stay indoors! One thing I did do today, aside from watching Mary Poppins and eating too many Ferrero Rochers, was finally sort out my 2018 reading challenges! 
The first: Back to the Classics 2018 - it's tradition! Here's what I think I'll be reading: A 19th century classicIdylls of the King by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
A 20th century classicTortilla Flat by John Steinbeck.
A classic by a woman authorA Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbald.
A classic in translation:Les Chants de Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont.
A children's classic:Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fictionThe Swindler by Francisco de Quevedo.
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fictionAround the World in Eighty Days by Jules Ver…

Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston.

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Eastward Ho! is a play by George Chapman (best known for Bussy D'Ambois and his translations of Homer), Ben Jonson (Every Man in His Humour, Volpone, or The Fox, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair) and John Marston (poet, playwright and satirist). It was first performed in 1605, though banned until 1614, and its title refers to an earlier play - Westward Ho! by Thomas Dekker and John Webster (1607). Both Eastward Ho! and Westward Ho! (and Northward Ho! also by Dekker and Webster come to that) are set in London and so are called 'City Comedies', other examples being The Shoemaker's Holiday by Dekker or The Old Wives' Tale by Peele. The nearest Shakespeare got to a city comedy was The Merry Wives of Windsor (which was set in the town of Windsor rather than a city), but that is by the by.
Returning to Eastward Ho!: it tells the story of a goldsmith, Touchstone, and his two apprentices Quicksilver and Golding. The two apprentices are very different: Quicksilver, whose…

Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

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Bleak House has never been my favourite Dickens but I decided a while ago I should revisit it and give it another chance. Finally, after a few years of putting off that second read I picked it up again for Fanda's Dickens in December. I'm glad I did: I don't love it, but I like it better than the first read, and, whatever the case, it has in my mind one of the best and most evocative beginnings. I'm going to quote it in full, despite its length, because I love it so much: London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might i…

The City of God by St. Augustine.

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It's become a tradition that in December I read a book that I am dreading, which will save me from having to carry a difficult task into the new year. Last year's was The Duke's Childrenby Trollope, the year before Resurrectionby Tolstoy, and I couldn't say what book I chose the year before that: this year it was The City of God (De civitate Dei contra paganos) by St. Augustine, which I was planning to include in my 2018 Challenges but decided quite suddenly I should just go for it in December. Now, as with most of ancient theology and philosophy, it's no use pretending I did very well with it; it actually went very badly indeed, so badly I wouldn't even attempt to do a book by book summary. I'll just whip through it and feel glad I did at least try.
It really is a mammoth book: my edition had over 1,000 pages and I dutifully struggled through about two books a day for ten days (it's divided into 22 books, I must have found the strength from somewhere …

Merry Christmas!

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I just want to wish a very Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate it, and a peaceful and happy day for those who don't! And, as it's Christmas Eve, I'll finish with my favourite Charles Dickens quote:
☆ ♡ ❅ ♡ ☆

Little Eyolf by Henrik Ibsen.

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Little Eyolf (Lille Eyolf) is quite possibly the most bleak of Ibsen's plays that I've read. It was first performed in January 1895 and is centred on the death of a child: Little Eyolf.
Eyolf is the nine year old son of Alfred and Rita Allmers and appears in the first act: he's a sweet child and sadly half-paralysed, and wants nothing more than to lead a normal life and play with other children, even be a soldier when he grows up, but his disability prevents it so Alfred encourages him into a more academic life. Meanwhile we learn of the rift between Alfred and Rita, that Alfred has emotionally and sexually withdrawn from her leaving their marriage rather dysfunctional and Rita showing jealousy of both Eyolf and Asta Allmers, Alfred's half-sister.
One day the Rat-Wife appears: a kind of rat-catcher who is able to encourage rats down to the fjord where they will drown. There are no rats, but Eyolf is rather drawn to her and so follows her down to the fjord. There he dro…

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

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Two years ago (almost to the day) I proposed a read-along of Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers, or to give it its original title, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, and I'm happy to say some of you were kind enough to join me! It was a twenty month read-along that mirrored the publication of the novel from 1836 - 1837 and marked its 180th anniversary. This was the schedule, and I've linked my monthly posts: IMarch 1836 (chapters 1–2)
IIApril 1836 (chapters 3–5)
IIIMay 1836 (chapters 6–8)
IVJune 1836 (chapters 9-11)
VJuly 1836 (chapters 12–14)
VIAugust 1836 (chapters 15–17)
VIISeptember 1836 (chapters 18–20)
VIIIOctober 1836 (chapters 21–23)
IXNovember 1836 (chapters 24–26)
XDecember 1836 (chapters 27–29)
XI January 1837 (chapters 30–32)
XII February 1837 (chapters 33–34)
XIII March 1837 (chapters 35–37)
XIV April 1837 (chapters 38–40)
XV June 1837 (chapters 41–43)
XVI July 1837 (chapters 44–46)
XVII August 1837 (chapters 47–49)
XVIII…

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli.

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I think it's hard to overestimate the influence of Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince (Il Principe), which seemed to be around on the scene from 1513 but not actually published until 1532. It's a political treatise on how to be powerful and how to maintain it at all costs.
The discussion is limited to autocratic regimes - absolute monarchies, as we see in Saudi Arabia for example, or dictatorships such as North Korea - as opposed to republics, democracies, or indeed democratic republics. The first few chapters are concerned with definitions of principalities, inherited for example, or ecclesiastical, or newly acquired, for Machiavelli's advice is tailored to each circumstance. He also looks at types of army for warfare, the most desirable being those native to their country, and the least desirable being mercenaries or auxiliaries (loaned by other countries).  Following this comes what I think is the most interesting part: the qualities of a prince.

This section, I'…

The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen.

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The Master Builder (Bygmester Solness) is one of Ibsen's final plays; after this he only wrote three more (Little Eyolf, John Gabriel Borkman, and When We Dead Awaken). It was first published in 1892 and first performed a month later in January 1893, two years after Hedda Gabler, and it tells the story of Halvard Solness, the 'master builder' of the title.
Halvard Solness is a middle aged and well respected self-taught architect, however, as with so many of Ibsen's characters, his life is thrown into turmoil with the return of someone from his past. This 'someone' is Hilda Wangel who Solness had met ten years previous when Hilda was just 13. Solness, she says, had kissed her and promised her a "kingdom"; being as she was, indeed is, so young she believes him and has returned accordingly. Solness takes her on as an employee (for household duties and the like) and the two become close. 
As this plays out we learn more of Solness and his family: his wife…

The Devils by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

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The Devils (Бесы; also known as The Possessed, The Devils, and Demons) is a novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, first published in 1871–2. It's one of his 'Big Four', the others being Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov. The title comes from a passage from the New Testament, Luke 8: 32 - 36, known as the Exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac: 32 And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. 33 Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. 34 When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. 36 They al…