Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Pleasures and Days by Marcel Proust.

Edward Gorey's fron cover of
Proust's Pleasures and Days (1957).
Marcel Proust is most famous for being the Guinness World Record holder for longest novel In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu, 1913-27). It's a novel I enjoyed on the whole, but, although this seems like a very obvious thing to say, it really is too long. It contains some absolutely stunning writing, but because In Search of Lost Time is so very intimidating for its size it can often get by-passed. There are, thankfully, other works by Proust - Jean Santeuil (not published until 1952) which is my favourite Proust, and this - Pleasures and Days (also known as Pleasures and Regrets), first published in 1896.

Pleasures and Days, it's title echoing Hesiod's Work and Days, is a collection of stories including:

  • The Death of Baldassare Silvande, Viscount of Sylvania
  • A Young Girl's Confession
  • A Dinner in Society
  • Fragments from Italian Comedy
  • Violante, or Worldly Vanities
  • The Social Ambitions and Musical Tastes of Bouvard and Pecuchet
  • Regrets, Reveries, Changing Skies
  • The Melancholy Summer of Madame de Breyves
  • The End of Jealousy

They are some of Proust's earliest works, written in the very early 1890s, at the height of the Decadent movement (Huysmans' Against Nature, 1884, being a prime example of this kind of literature). There are elements of this in Pleasures and Days, which shares, as well as the beauty of Jean Santeuil and In Search of Lost Time, some of the major themes that concerned Proust in his works. There is a darkness behind this beauty, a realism within the decadence. Proust referred to it as "this flowery book", which is an extremely apt description; the stories are like a garden filled with flowers, overfilled even, a garden as overwhelming and oppressive as it is sublime, and, as with In Search of Lost Time there is love, boredom, snobbery, anxiety, childhood attachments, disillusionment, and 'la douleur exquise' along with discussions on music, art, and literature.

It is a melancholic work, very elegant, very alluring, from a time now passed. It's a very short, my edition was just 221 pages, and yet it is I think an excellent introduction to Marcel Proust. I really fell in love with these stories.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Good Temper by Richard Steele.

Sir Richard Steele by Godfrey Kneller (c. 1712).
Sir Richard Steele was an Irish writer, a Whig Member of Parliament for Stockbridge (Hampshire) and Boroughbridge (Yorkshire), a member of the famous Kit-Cat Club, and, along with Joseph Addison, founded The Tatler magazine in 1709 (not to be confused with Tatler, founded in 1901 by Clement Shorter, which was named after Addison and Steele's The Tatler). Again with Addison he later founded The Spectator in 1711 and The Guardian in 1713 (neither of which are still in publication, today's Spectator was founded in 1828 and Guardian in 1821). Good Temper is an essay first published in The Spectator on 14th August 1711.

The essay begins with a Latin quote, "Non est vivere sed valere Vita" (meaning "Life is not being alive but being well"). He goes on,
It is an unreasonable thing some Men expect of their Acquaintance. They are ever complaining that they are out of Order, or Displeased, or they know not how, and are so far from letting that be a Reason for retiring to their own Homes, that they make it their Argument for coming into Company. What has any body to do with Accounts of a Man’s being Indispos’d but his Physician? If a Man laments in Company, where the rest are in Humour enough to enjoy themselves, he should not take it ill if a Servant is ordered to present him with a Porringer of Cawdle or Posset-drink, by way of Admonition that he go Home to Bed. That Part of Life which we ordinarily understand by the Word Conversation, is an Indulgence to the Sociable Part of our Make; and should incline us to bring our Proportion of good Will or good Humour among the Friends we meet with, and not to trouble them with Relations which must of necessity oblige them to a real or feigned Affliction. Cares, Distresses, Diseases, Uneasinesses, and Dislikes of our own, are by no means to be obtruded upon our Friends. 
He continues to admonish those who would bring misery to others, referring to them as "Valetudinarians", meaning either those who suffer from poor health or those who are unduly anxious about their health. Steele writes on the attempt at cheerfulness:
Whatever we do we should keep up the Chearfulness of our Spirits, and never let them sink below an Inclination at least to be well-pleased: The Way to this, is to keep our Bodies in Exercise, our Minds at Ease. 
Such spirit "will conquer Pride, Vanity and Affectation", for conquering health itself can be impossible. Steele suggests trying to think positive, or rather consider the afterlife: failing health may be viewed as a step closer to a much better state. That said, "if one does not regard Life after this manner, none but Ideots can pass it away with any tolerable Patience." If that were the case, one ought to accept life's balance, that one cannot be in a perpetual state of pleasure.
It is certain that to enjoy Life and Health as a constant Feast, we should not think Pleasure necessary, but, if possible, to arrive at an Equality of Mind. It is as mean to be overjoyed upon Occasions of Good-Fortune, as to be dejected in Circumstances of Distress.
He concludes with a quote from Theory of the Earth (which I believe, but am not certain, was written either by John Keill or Thomas Burnet):
For what is this Life but a Circulation of little mean Actions? We lie down and rise again, dress and undress, feed and wax hungry, work or play, and are weary, and then we lie down again, and the Circle returns. We spend the Day in Trifles, and when the Night comes we throw our selves into the Bed of Folly, amongst Dreams and broken Thoughts, and wild Imaginations. Our Reason lies asleep by us, and we are for the Time as arrant Brutes as those that sleep in the Stalls or in the Field. Are not the Capacities of Man higher than these? And ought not his Ambition and Expectations to be greater? Let us be Adventurers for another World: ‘Tis at least a fair and noble Chance; and there is nothing in this worth our Thoughts or our Passions. If we should be disappointed, we are still no worse than the rest of our Fellow-Mortals; and if we succeed in our Expectations, we are Eternally Happy.
It's a very short essay and it's rather harsh, but sound advice for general whinging and the mild nigglings and state of unwellness we all suffer from time to time. Not an essay to be taken to extremes, though!

Good Temper was my ninth title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Art of Political Lying by Jonathan Swift. This should be a very interesting one!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Love's Labour Lost by William Shakespeare and The Massacre at Paris by Christopher Marlowe.

Love's Labour Lost is a very charming comedy by William Shakespeare, written around 1594-5 (around the same time as The Comedy of Errors), making it, most likely, his third comedy. The Massacre at Paris is a bloody tragedy by Christopher Marlowe, first acted in 1593, a year before Shakespeare's play, and is his final play. It may well seem strange to review two plays by two different authors from two different genres in one post, but, when (by coincidence) I read them both last week I found they have one interesting thing in common: Henry IV of France and Margaret of Valois.

In Love's Labour Lost the king of Navarre is Ferdinand, the queen is unnamed, however Ferdinand is loosely based on Henry of Navarre, who became Henry IV of France, and the unnamed queen is Margaret. It begins with Navarre and his three friends Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine pledging an oath to dedicate themselves to scholarship and refrain from consorting with women. Navarre speaks the opening lines of the play:
Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
    Live regist'red upon our brazen tombs,
    And then grace us in the disgrace of death;
    When, spite of cormorant devouring Time,
    Th' endeavour of this present breath may buy
    That honour which shall bate his scythe's keen edge,
    And make us heirs of all eternity.
    Therefore, brave conquerors- for so you are
    That war against your own affections
    And the huge army of the world's desires-
    Our late edict shall strongly stand in force:
    Navarre shall be the wonder of the world;
    Our court shall be a little Academe,
    Still and contemplative in living art.
    You three, Berowne, Dumain, and Longaville,
    Have sworn for three years' term to live with me
    My fellow-scholars, and to keep those statutes
    That are recorded in this schedule here.
    Your oaths are pass'd; and now subscribe your names,
    That his own hand may strike his honour down
    That violates the smallest branch herein.
    If you are arm'd to do as sworn to do,
    Subscribe to your deep oaths, and keep it too.
As Berowne reads, "... no woman shall come within a mile of my [the King's] court". However, it is then told that Costard, a fool, has been caught with Jaquenetta by Don Armado, a guest of the court. Don Armado reveals to his page (Moth) he is secretly in love with Jaquenetta. Meanwhile, the Princess of France (Margaret of Valois) arrives to visit however she must stay in a camp outside the court because of the oath. Unsurprisingly he falls in love with her, and Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine fall in love with her three ladies. Letters are sent back and forth and are inevitably mixed up and the four friends try to conceal their love for the women, but eventually agree that they should pursue the ones they love. Eventually, after some trickery on the ladies' part, they do and it is agreed that the men should wait one year and then declare their love again should they wish. The ladies then depart with the news that the Princess' father has died.

As we know the king and princess marry. Marlowe's play The Massacre at Paris deals with the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572; this took place days after the wedding of Margaret (a Catholic) to Henry (a Protestant). This period was marked by what's known as the Huguenot Wars or French Wars of Religion between the Reformed Protestants (Huguenots) and the Catholics. Henry avoided being killed and had to promise to convert to Catholicism, and for several years was confined to court. 

Henry and Margaret.
Marlowe's play begins with the marriage of Margaret and Henry at Notre-Dame. The marriage was designed to bring peace between the Huguenots and Catholics, however we see the tensions between the Huguenots, particularly Henry, the Royals, in this instance Catherine de' Medici, Margaret's mother, and the Catholics, represented here by the Duke of Guise. The Duke of Guise (who was a descendant of Lucrezia Borgia and Pope Alexander VI) delivers a lengthy monologue revealing his plans to kill Joan III, 'the old Queen of Navarre' (Jeanne d'Albret; Jeanne's mother, I think is worth mentioning, is Marguerite de Navarre, author of the Heptaméron, 1558). By killing Joan, which he does with poisoned gloves in Act I Scene III, he begins his plan to claim the crown (it should be noted that whilst there was a rumour that she was murdered by poisoned gloves, she in fact died of natural causes). With Jean dead, the Royals and Catholics plan the massacre, which begins with the murder of Gaspard De Coligny, Admiral Of France. Two preachers are then murdered; Loreine by Guise and Seroune by Mountsorrell (Charles De Chambes, Count Of Montsoreau), and yet more Huguenots. When King Charles IX dies, Anjou is crowned Henry III of France, though it is clear that Catherine intends to be the driving force of any of his decisions. Meanwhile, Guise is planning his attack on Henry whilst he also learns his wife the Duchess of Guise is having an affair with Mugeroun. Navarre (later Henry IV of France, Margaret's husband) hears of the plan and, whilst a battle that sees the Huguenots victorious takes place, joins forces with the king. The Duke of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Guise are murdered, and Dumaine (Charles, Duke Of Mayenne) vows revenge; a friar (Jacques Clément) acting on his behalf stabs and kills Henry III. Before he dies he declares Navarre the heir to the throne. Navarre, now Henry IV, plots his revenge against the Catholics. The play ends with the words,
Come, lords, take up the body of the king,
That we may see it honourably interr'd:
And then I vow for to revenge his death
As Rome, and all those popish prelates there,
Shall curse the time that e'er Navarre was king,
And rul'd in France by Henry's fatal death.
The Massacre at Paris is a very short play, just 1,250 lines or so (a little longer than the fifth act of Love's Labour Lost, the longest act of Shakespeare's plays), but it is packed with drama and I loved it very much. It ends, as I say, with Navarre becoming King Henry IV. His marriage to Margaret, which marked the beginning of the action, was not a happy one. A few years after the action of this play the couple separated; their marriage was childless and Henry wished to marry his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées, who died in 1599. In the same year Henry and Margaret's marriage was annulled and he married married Marie de' Medici in 1600. This was of course a good five years before the performances of both The Massacre at Paris and Love's Labour Lost. Love's Labour Lost is also a very enjoyable play full of witty and intelligent repartee between the scholars. It's also notable for containing the longest of words in Shakespeare's plays: honorificabilitudinitatibus, which means "the state of being able to achieve honours", which is also the longest word in the English laguage with alternate vowels and consonants. To be clear, I'm not suggesting these plays ought to be read together, it simply made an interesting comparison of the themes and tone of the two plays concerning the same characters, and if I had to pick a favourite, I dare say I'd go for The Massacre at Paris, but Love's Labour Lost is easily one of my favourite Shakespearean comedies.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Getting up on Cold Mornings by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

Leigh Hunt, engraved by H. Meyer 
from a drawing by J. Hayter.
When I put together my list for the Deal Me In Challenge I did wonder when this particular essay would come up. I did think it was bound to be summer, but no, today is the day when it is bright, rainy, fairly mild (9 °C), and with gusts of about 15 mph. But, it's not yet March and the freezing cold memories are still pretty fresh!

James Henry Leigh Hunt, better known simply as Leigh Hunt, was a poet, critic, and essayist born in 1784. He was a friend of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. He went to Italy with them (his nightmare voyage took eight months because of sickness and bad travelling conditions), and was an editor of The Examiner (founded in 1808, going out of print six years after Leigh Hunt's death in 1865), The Reflector (1810-11), The Indicator (1819-21), and The Companion. Whilst at The Examiner he published the article The Prince on St. Patrick’s Day (22nd March 1812) in which he wrote,
In short, this delightful, blissful, wise, pleasurable, honourable, virtuous, true, and immortal PRINCE, was a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who had just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country, or the respect of posterity.
This earned him two years in Horsemonger Lane Gaol, Surrey, where, coincidentally, Charles Dickens observed the hangings of Marie and Frederick George Manning (1849), which moved him to campaign against public executions (Mademoiselle Hortense of Bleak House is based on Marie Manning). Thankfully, however, Leigh Hunt was not executed.

Leigh Hunt's Getting up on Cold Mornings appeared in The Indicator in 1820. It begins,
An Italian author–Giulio Cordara, a Jesuit–has written a poem upon insects, which he begins by insisting, that those troublesome and abominable little animals were created for our annoyance, and that they were certainly not inhabitants of Paradise. We of the north may dispute this piece of theology; but on the other hand, it is clear as the snow on the house-tops, that Adam was not under the necessity of shaving; and that when Eve walked out of her delicious bower, she did not step upon ice three inches thick.
Some people say it is a very easy thing to get up of a cold morning. You have only, they tell you, to take the resolution; and the thing is done. This may be very true; just as a boy at school has only to take a flogging, and the thing is over. But we have not at all made up our minds upon it; and we find it a very pleasant exercise to discuss the matter, candidly, before we get up. This at least is not idling, though it may be lying. It affords an excellent answer to those, who ask how lying in bed can be indulged in by a reasoning being,–a rational creature. How? Why with the argument calmly at work in one’s head, and the clothes over one’s shoulder. Oh–it is a fine way of spending a sensible, impartial half-hour.
He goes on to write of the virtues of the man who remains in bed as long as he can (referring to it a little later as "decumbency"), contrasting him with those irritating folk who leap up despite sub-zero temperatures by saying "If they cannot entertain themselves with their own thoughts for half an hour or so, it is not the fault of those who can." The warmth, he adds, is only natural for warmblooded creatures such as ourselves, and the cold, brought about by this "the inharmonious and uncritical abruptness of the transition" by those who force another to get out of bed on a such a morning are, to quote Milton "harpy-footed furies" (referring to line 596 of Paradise Lost).

So, on waking up one morning to find one's "own breath rolling forth, as if in the open air, like smoke out of a cottage chimney", what must one do to avoid being dragged out earlier than one would hope? Leigh Hunt advises distracting one's servant, making him perform somewhat unnecessary tasks, One that has been exhausted, yes, it's time to get up.
At length everything is ready, except myself. I now, continues our incumbent (a happy word, by the bye, for a country vicar)–I now cannot help thinking a good deal–who can?–upon the unnecessary and villainous custom of shaving: it is a thing so unmanly (here I nestle closer)–so effeminate (here I recoil from an unlucky step into the colder part of the bed.)–No wonder that the Queen of France took part with the rebels against the degenerate King, her husband, who first affronted her smooth visage with a face like her own. The Emperor Julian never showed the luxuriancy of his genius to better advantage than in reviving the flowing beard. Look at Cardinal Bembo’s picture–at Michael Angelo’s–at Titian’s–at Shakespeare’s–at Fletcher’s–at Spenser’s–at Chaucer’s–at Alfred’s–at Plato’s–I could name a great man for every tick of my watch.–Look at the Turks, a grave and otiose people.–Think of Haroun Al Raschid and Bed-ridden Hassan.–Think of Wortley Montagu, the worthy son of his mother, a man above the prejudice of his time.–Look at the Persian gentlemen, whom one is ashamed of meeting about the suburbs, their dress and appearance are so much finer than our own.–Lastly, think of the razor itself–how totally opposed to every sensation of bed–how cold, how edgy, how hard! how utterly different from anything like the warm and circling amplitude, which 
          Sweetly recommends itself
          Unto our gentle senses.
[Referring to Act I Scene VI of Shakespeare's Macbeth]
Add to this, benumbed fingers, which may help you to cut yourself, a quivering body, a frozen towel, and a ewer full of ice; and he that says there is nothing to oppose in all this, only shows, at any rate, that he has no merit in opposing it.
He refers next to John Thomson, author of Seasons (1726-30):
used to lie in bed till noon, because he said he had no motive in getting up. He could imagine the good of rising; but then he could also imagine the good of lying still; and his exclamation ["Falsely luxurious! Will not man awake?"], it must be allowed, was made upon summer-time, not winter. 
Motivation, after all, is an important part of getting up and braving the chill:
A money-getter may be drawn out of his bed by three and four pence; but this will not suffice for a student. A proud man may say, “What shall I think of myself, if I don’t get up?” but the more humble one will be content to waive this prodigious notion of himself, out of respect to his kindly bed. The mechanical man shall get up without any ado at all; and so shall the barometer. An ingenious lier in bed will find hard matter of discussion even on the score of health and longevity. He will ask us for our proofs and precedents of the ill effects of lying later in cold weather; and sophisticate much on the advantages of an even temperature of body; of the natural propensity (pretty universal) to have one’s way; and of the animals that roll themselves up, and sleep all the winter. As to longevity, he will ask whether the longest life is of necessity the best; and whether Holborn is the handsomest street in London.
In fact, the only real motivation, the only thing perhaps worth getting up on cold mornings is a lady. She may flatter him out of bed, persuade and cajole him into it. Leigh Hunt concludes this little essay,
Other little helps of appeal may be thrown in, as occasion requires. You may tell a lover, for instance, that lying in bed makes people corpulent; a father, that you wish him to complete the fine manly example he sets his children; a lady, that she will injure her bloom or her shape, which M. or W. admires so much; and a student or artist, that he is always so glad to have done a good day’s work, in his best manner. 
Reader. And pray, Mr. Indicator, how do you behave yourself in this respect? 
Indic. Oh, Madam, perfectly, of course; like all advisers. 
Reader. Nay, I allow that your mode of argument does not look quite so suspicious as the old way of sermonising and severity, but I have my doubts, especially from that laugh of yours. If I should look in to-morrow morning– 
Indic. Ah, Madam, the look in of a face like yours does anything with me. It shall fetch me up at nine, if you please–six, I meant to say.
There the essay ends, and a very fine and funny one it was!

And that was my 8th essay for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Good Temper by Richard Steele.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.

About a fortnight ago I had a sudden urge to give Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939) another go, and with books such as this it is always wise to obey the urge. So, I read it, but I want to make a couple of things clear before I go on: firstly, I'm not under the illusion I understood it: I understood probably less than 5% of it, and secondly I'm not trying to give the impression that I understood it. I really didn't, but somehow that didn't hamper by enjoyment of it.

As Finnegans Wake is all about the experience of reading, I'll start with why I wanted to read it. It was during a period of ennui; I was a bit tired of winter, and a lot tired of the social and political climate. The latter is somewhat overwhelming at present, and I miss the times when Brexit, the union, Trump, and far right leaders didn't dominate, and one didn't feel that heavy responsibility of keeping up with the insanity of it. I miss watching the news and seeing a Prime Minister pop up and turn it over because it was "boring". In short I miss other things, other things that matter but from which we are distracted by the stupidity of others. So, in the middle of something (it's hard to remember exactly what it was that upset me as things are coming thick and fast) I decided to read Finnegans Wake because I wanted a break from what is alarmingly close to becoming the 'new normal'. Finnegans Wake demands concentration and leads you down a variety of paths completely removed from reality, and this was very attractive (I realise as I write this I could have gone for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and made my life a little easier), so in that spirit I read it, loved reading it, and am grateful for that holiday from reality. 

I suppose, when writing about reading this novel, one must ask what is reading? I saw each word in the order they were written, but that isn't enough. When one reads one, I suppose, understands or at least has a chance of understanding: we interpret the words and their meaning - this is what was said, this is what was meant, this is what I think, this is what I feel. With much of Finnegans Wake that first and second option - this is what was said, this is what was meant - is removed. In reading Finnegans Wake I'm not quite sure what James Joyce said or what he meant, but I still had my thoughts and my feelings on it. 

How did he manage it, is the question I want to ask. I know with modern art people look at it and say "My five year old could have done that". That certainly doesn't apply to Finnegans Wake, I think only Joyce could have done that. It feels random and confusing, and that the alphabet has been thrown around roughly, for example, the second page:
 What clashes here of wills gen wonts, oystrygods gaggin fishy-gods! Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax! Ualu Ualu Ualu! Quaouauh! 
But this does have some meaning: the "Brékkek Kékkek Kékkek Kékkek! Kóax Kóax Kóax!" is in fact a throw-back to Aristophanes' The Frogs (405 B.C.):
Brekeke-kex, ko-äx, ko-äx,
Ko-äx, ko-äx, ko-äx!
[Βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ,
κοὰξ κοάξ, κοάξ!]
What it means in context I couldn't tell you: it's something to do with the Ostrogoths, that's about as much as I managed. The point is, in the most extreme examples of 'alphabet throwing' some meaning may be discerned. But it's not all as random as that. There are some other ways of understanding what is meant. Context is key, and in some examples, working out what words sound like. Example:
... rite continental poet, Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper, A. G., whom the generality admoyers in this that is and that this is to come. 
"Daunty, Gouty, and Shopkeeper": Dante, Goethe, and Shakespeare. Also, "Madam's Toshowus waxes largely more lifeliked" referring to Madame Tussauds, or "notional gullery" for National Gallery. And another example:
Nɪɢʜᴛʟᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ 
With our best youlldied greedings to Pep and Memmy and the old folkers below and beyant, wishing them all very merry Incarnations in this land of the livvey and plenty of preprosperousness through their coming new yonks
                         from
         jake, jack and little sousoucie
              (the babes that mean too)
"youlldied" - Yuletide, "greedings" - greetings, "Pep and Memmy", pop and mammy, "old folkers", well, we know where he's going with that, "merry Incarnations" - Merry Christmas, and the question of "Incarnation" used instead of Christmas, ... and on it goes.

Another way of understanding certain words is to understand how the word itself is composed. "roman pathoricks" is obviously Roman Catholics; "roman", simple enough, "pathorick" - "Pat" as in Patrick, Saint Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland, the rest of it sounding suitably similar to "...h-olic" to bring "catholic" to mind. Another word that stuck out: "waxenwench". 'Waxen-wench', "wax" to mean not so much made of wax but the opposite of 'wane': to wax is to grow, and 'wench' obviously is a young woman, so "waxenwench" would mean a growing young woman: an adolescent female. Then there is the simple slang: "Scuse us, chorley guy!"; 'scuse', simple "excuse". As for "chorley guy", that I had to look up: it's said it refers to "Sorley Boy MacDonnell", a Scottish-Irish prince born in 1505. Words, in Finnegans Wake, may be random and appear meaningless, but some of them actually aren't; it's a matter of breaking them down and building them back up into something intelligible. But then, after all of that, there are the passages which one feels ought to make sense but don't. 

It is, it goes without saying, a very strange reading experience. I got lost in each word, so much so I didn't manage to get a plot out of it, though I gather others have. As the title suggests the novel is to do with Finnegan's Wake. In the early part of the book -
Sobs they sighdid at Fillagain's chrissormiss wake, all the hoolivans of the nation, prostrated in their consternation and their duodisimally profusive plethora of ululation. There was plumbs and grumes and cheriffs and citherers and raiders and cinemen too. And the all gianed in with the shout-most shoviality. Agog and magog and the round of them agrog. To the continuation of that celebration until Hanandhunigan's extermination! Some in kinkin corass, more, kankan keening. Belling him up and filling him down. He's stiff but he's steady is Priam Olim! 
I've read that Finnegans Wake can be described as a Ulysses of the night (Joyce himself apparently said his aim was to "reconstruct the nocturnal life"), and to me this makes sense. It has a dream-like (sometimes nightmareish) quality to it, a kind of Freudian, subconscious, random, account of what it is to dream; snatches of reality underneath milleniums of history, politics, and art with darkly sexual elements amongst the beams of light; coherent at times, muddled mostly, even with the odd snatches of rhyme: "Quicken, aspen; ash and yew; willow, broom with oak for you". Dreaming may take us back to our primeval selves, and Finnegans Wake takes us back to the dark ages, pre-Tristan -
Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passencore [pas encore = not yet] rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war.
- to the times of Finn McCool -
Macool, Macool, orra whyi deed ye diie?
- one of the many references to Fionn mac Cumhaill, an Irish mythical warrior. 

For this, it's an astonishingly forceful book; the modernists tried to capture what life was really like. Woolf wrote (in Modern Fiction):
Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewn on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible? 
Joyce did this for the night, and it's a remarkable achievement. I think there's a tendency to get rather irritated with Joyce for Finnegans Wake, but all of this jumble is in fact meaningful, it's a matter of picking it out and picking it apart and, for me most importantly, accepting that on the whole it's impossible to do so. Joyce broke every rule of writing he possibly could, even, the most famous example, starting the novel on the final page: here are the last and first sentences of Finnegans Wake:
A way a lone a last a loved a long the 
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
For me, Finnegans Wake is exciting. Again, much of it, 95% plus, I didn't understand, but still I loved to read it. I think there are parts where there appears to meaning when in fact there is none, and there's the fun bits where Joyce appears to predict the future, most notably for me: "iSpace":
acùtely profèššionally piquéd, to=introdùce a notion of time [ùpon ả plane (?) sù ' ' fáç'e'] by pùnct! ingh oles (sic) in iSpace?!
And I can't not mention "unfacts":
Thus the unfacts, did we possess them, are to imprecisely few to warrant our certitude, the evidencegivers by legpoll too untrustworthily irreperible where his adjugers are seemingly freak threes but hid judicandees plainly minus twos.
Could Joyce have predicted Kellyanne Conway!?

I loved reading it, in short, and it is possible to read the words and try to get meaning, but the most important part for me was a willingness to fail. In that sense, it is easier to read Finnegans Wake than Ulysses. I would certainly revisit this book and perhaps dedicate more time to it and try and get in much deeper. For now, to quote a part of Finnegans Wake: "I did me best when I was let".

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe.

The Jew of Malta is a play by Christopher Marlowe, written around 1589-90 (thought to perhaps be around the same time Marlowe wrote Doctor Faustus and when Shakespeare was writing his Henry VI plays) and was first performed in 1592 by the Elizabethan playing company Lord Strange's Men (who, among other plays, acted the Henry VI plays). 

It begins with a prologue by a ghost - Machevill, based of course on Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince (1513):
Albeit the world think Machiavel is dead,
Yet was his soul but flown beyond the Alps;
And, now the Guise is dead, is come from France,
To view this land, and frolic with his friends.
To some perhaps my name is odious;
But such as love me, guard me from their tongues,
And let them know that I am Machiavel,
And weigh not men, and therefore not men's words.
Admir'd I am of those that hate me most:
Though some speak openly against my books,
Yet will they read me, and thereby attain
To Peter's chair; and, when they cast me off,
Are poison'd by my climbing followers.
I count religion but a childish toy,
And hold there is no sin but ignorance.
Birds of the air will tell of murders past!
I am asham'd to hear such fooleries.
Many will talk of title to a crown:
What right had Caesar to the empery?
Might first made kings, and laws were then most sure
When, like the Draco's, they were writ in blood.
Hence comes it that a strong-built citadel
Commands much more than letters can import:
Which maxim had Phalaris observ'd,
H'ad never bellow'd, in a brazen bull,
Of great ones' envy:  o' the poor petty wights
Let me be envied and not pitied.
But whither am I bound?  I come not, I,
To read a lecture here in Britain,
But to present the tragedy of a Jew,
Who smiles to see how full his bags are cramm'd;
Which money was not got without my means.
I crave but this, grace him as he deserves,
And let him not be entertain'd the worse
Because he favours me.
"The Jew", Barabas, as he explains became rich by adhering to Machiavel's teachings. We meet him in the first act awaiting a delivery at the docks where he is told he must leave to go to the senate. Once there the governor informs him that he, along with the other Jewish people of Malta, must give half of their estate to the government to pay a forfeit to the Turks. He refuses and has all of his estate seized, including his home which they turn into a convent. And so Barabas vows revenge but first he intends to recover his estate. To help, his daughter Abigail pretends to convert to Christianity to enter into the convent, where she smuggles the gold out. Then, he tricks Don Lodowick, the son of the governor of Malta (Ferneze) into believing Abigail will marry him, despite knowing that she is in love with his friend Mathias. Barabas then assures Mathias that Abigail loves him. When the two discover they are both in love with her, Barabas instructs his slave Ithamore to send Mathias a letter purporting to be from Lodowick challenging him to a duel. The duel takes place and both are killed. Their parents seek revenge, and Abigail is told by Ithamore (Barabas' slave) of how the duel came to take place. Furious, she really does convert and join the convent and, for retribution, Barabas poisons all of the nuns. On her deathbed, Abigail reveals to Jacomo, a friar, that Barabas is responsible for the deaths of Mathias and Lodowick.

Meanwhile, Bellamira (a prostitute) and her pimp Pilia-Borza are planning on stealing Barabas' gold. As she says,
Since this town was besieg'd, my gain grows cold:
The time has been, that but for one bare night
A hundred ducats have been freely given;
But now against my will I must be chaste:
And yet I know my beauty doth not fail.
Ithamore, Barabas' slave, falls in love with her. As this plays out, Ferneze informs Calymath (the Turkish leader) that Malta will not pay them money, which will result in war.

When Jacomo and Bernardine go to see Barabas with the plan of confronting him about his crimes, Barabas manages to trick them into thinking he is on the verge of converting to Christianity. Thus distracted, Ithamore kills Bernardine and the two frame Jacomo. However Ithamore confesses all of his crimes to Bellamira, who reports them both to Ferneze. Soon after, they die: Barabas has poisoned them all. In one final act of treachery, as he escapes, Barabas informs Calymath on how best to invade Malta. He is made governor for this, but, unable to resist making more money, he tells Ferneze he will kill Calymath and stop the Turkish rule if Ferneze pays him. However, finally, he gets his comeuppance when he is double crossed by Ferenze and murdered, his last words:
And, villains, know you cannot help me now. -
Then, Barabas, breathe forth thy latest fate,
And in the fury of thy torments strive
To end thy life with resolution. -
Know, governor, 'twas I that slew thy son,-
I fram'd the challenge that did make them meet:
Know, Calymath, I aim'd thy overthrow:
And, had I but escap'd this stratagem,
I would have brought confusion on you all,
Damn'd Christian dogs, and Turkish infidels!
But now begins the extremity of heat
To pinch me with intolerable pangs:
Die, life! fly, soul! tongue, curse thy fill, and die!
This is quite an exhausting play, it must be said. There are no real good characters in this; even those against Barabas, the governor, the friars, and other Christians are shown to be hypocrites. It is, essentially, a play about strategy, and religion is but a tool; those who successfully outmanoeuvre others are the successors; The Jew of Malta is not a play where good triumphs over evil. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

The College Fellow who has Taken Orders by Anthony Trollope.

Anthony Trollope by
G. H. Watkins.
The College Fellow who has Taken Orders is the seventh essay in Anthony Trollope's Clergymen of the Church of England, first serialised in The Pall Mall Gazette under the titles "Clerical Sketches" between 20th November 1865 and 25th January 1866. In this Trollope turns his attention to the Oxbridge clergymen:
In speaking of a college fellow, a fellow of a college at Oxford or Cambridge is the fellow of whom we intend to speak. There may, probably, be other fellowships going in these prolific days, as there are other universities, and degrees given by other academical bodies; but we will claim, for the moment, to belong to the old school in such matters, and will recognise as college fellows only those who are presented to us as fellows by these two great sister universities.
He then writes on the privileges associated with the college fellow: "a certain income, a certain rank in his college, a residence within his college, and a place at the high table in hall; and among these privileges and possessions is the great privilege - of a title to orders". Of how the fellow uses his privileges is dependent upon the individual. From here Trollope talks of the 'taking orders'; on how a layman becomes a deacon or priest and how, for the college fellow, this process is infinitely simplified: "The fellow of a college goes before a bishop demanding to be ordained simply because he is a fellow, - and the bishop ordains him." However, Trollope suggests that it is not until much later the fellow becomes "a real clergyman", once, in fact, he has dropped his fellowship. He goes on,
It is true that the fellow becomes a clergyman at last; but who will maintain that any man has fitly used a profession to which he has never applied himself during those years of his life in which his energy was the strongest, and which he embraced without any view to using it at all?
Trollope then questions the suitability of a college fellow in the parish, and his ability to "cure ... the parochial souls". He uses the fictional example of the Reverend Joseph Brown:
The Reverend Joseph Brown stands senior on the list of the fellows of St. Lazarus, within the walls of which happy institution he has lived as fellow and bursar for the last thirty years. No man understands better than the Reverend Joseph Brown the proper temperature of port wine, or the amount of service which a college servant should render. But at the age of fifty-five he falls into unexpectedly tender relations with an amiable female, and on that account he undertakes the pastoral care of the souls of the parish of Eiderdown! What if Eiderdown got its doctors in the same way, or its butcher? What if the ladies of Eiderdown were bound to employ a milliner sent to them after some such fashion? But no man or woman can conceive the possibility of any workman presuming to attempt to earn his bread by his work after such a fashion as this, - excepting always the clergyman.
That, I'd say, was no doubt somewhat surprising to the 1860s Victorian, that a member of the clergy could be likened to any other professional man rather than someone who had been called by God. Trollope nonetheless pursues this direction, concluding the essay,
But his conscience is easy, because he knows that in fact he is no clergyman. he has simply undergone a certain ceremony in order that he may enjoy his fellowship, - and hereafter take a living should the amiable and tender relationship of matrimony fall in his way. 
It's an interesting essay, rather caustic, and seemingly designed to urge the Church of England to reform certain elements of its practice. I'm enjoying reading these essays from Clergymen of the Church of England, and I'm looking forward to finishing them (which is a long way off!) to get the overall picture. For now though, I can say Trollope certainly has my attention.

And that was my seventh essay for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: Getting up on Cold Mornings by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Coqueville on the Spree by Émile Zola.

Coqueville on the Spree (La fête à Coqueville) is a novella by Émile Zola and was first published in Vestnik Evropy (Вестник Европы; Herald of Europe or Messenger of Europe) in August 1879, around the time of the publications of L'Assommoir (1877), A Love Episode (1878), and Nana (1880). Having spent some years now reading Émile Zola's works, I'd have to say this was the most surprising.

It begins,
Coqueville is a little village snuggling down in a rocky inlet five miles from Grandport. A fine broad sandy beach stretches out at the foot of the ramshackle old cottages stuck halfway up the cliff-face like shells left high and dry by the tide. When you climb to the left, up on the heights of Grandport, you can see the yellow expanse of beach very plainly to the west, looking like a tide of gold dust flowing out of the gaping slit in the rock, and if you have good eyes, you can even make out the tumbledown cottages standing out, rust-coloured against the stone, with the bluish smoke from their chimneys drifting upwards to the crest of the enormous ridge blocking the horizon.
Coqueville, Zola goes on, has less than 200 inhabitants and is largely cut off from the rest of the world, only really accessible via the sea. The men are almost all fishermen and did business with Dufeu's widow's assistant M. Mouchel and, as Zola writes, "Monsieur Mouchel was the only link between Coqueville and the civilised world." 

Following the geography, a history of the place. Founded in the Dark Ages by the Mahés, it grew from intermarriage until a man, Floche, appeared during the reign of Louis XIII (1610 - 1643), and married a Mahés. Coqueville is now full (bar just a few) of descendants of either the Mahés, the Floches, or indeed both (though not necessarily with those names: ancient nicknames developed into surnames), but it is the Floches side that is the most dominant in power and the two families (or two halves of the island as it works out) hate each other: "centuries of loathing seethed between them". Petty squabbling, as expected, raged for years but what occupies Coqueville the most at present is the love between Delphin and Margot, youths of two rival families, and the inhabitants take their sides.

One day following storms it seems one of the ships, the Whale, is lost, but it finally appears on the horizon, only to disappear and re-appear. There is concern at to whether the ship is manned, and a rowing boat goes out to rescue them. On the ship's floor lies Rouget, Fouasse, and Delphin, drunk and asleep. The three had been unable to catch any fish but what they did find was numerous casks of some of the best alcohol ever to be found, presumably from the other ship mentioned during the storm, and what that alcohol is is fiercely debated. Over the days more barrels are found, leading to races between the two families, and eventually there's enough of this golden, almost flowery liquid to go around. Soon everyone is drinking it, and all the liqueurs they find bobbing around the sea: old scores are settled, arguments are forgotten about, and the whole village and its two rival factions finally find peace after their week "on the spree".

It's a fun, silly, and warmhearted tale, very different indeed from the Zola stories and novels I've come across (and this is the 37th story by Zola I've reviewed!), with the contrasting message we see in the likes of L'Assommoir, The Fortune of the Rougons, and Doctor Pascal to name a few. It's such a nice surprise to see the lighthearted side of Émile Zola.

And this was my second short story from the Deal Me In "Full Moon Fever Version". Next month, 12th March - The Paradise of Cats by Émile Zola.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Chapters XXXIII - XXXIV of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Title page of Oliver Twist, illustrated
by George Cruikshank.
As I write this it's snowing, but we've barely got a few millimetres (unlike some today!), whereas 180 years ago there were still blizzards and severe cold, disrupting transport, damaging crops, and causing much suffering to people and animals alike. Aside from the weather, February 1837 was the start of the serialisation of the second of Dickens' novels: Oliver Twist, which ran in Bentley's Miscellany  (Pickwick Papers was serialised by Chapman & Hall) from February 1837 to April 1839. For those who may be interested in reading Oliver Twist alongside The Pickwick Papers (let's call it 'The Pickwick Read-Along with a Twist'!), here's the publication dates (also including Nicholas Nickleby, which crossed over with Oliver Twist when Pickwick Papers had finished):

  • I – February 1837: chapters 1–2 | Pickwick Papers XII: chapters 33–34
  • II – March 1837: chapters 3–4 | Pickwick Papers XIII: chapters 35–37
  • III – April 1837: chapters 5–6 | Pickwick Papers XIV: chapters 38–40
  • IV – May 1837: chapters 7–8 | No instalment of Pickwick Papers
  • No instalment in June 1837 Pickwick Papers XV: chapters 41–43
  • V – July 1837: chapters 9-11 |  Pickwick Papers XVI: chapters 44–46
  • VI – August 1837: chapters 12–13 | Pickwick Papers XVII: chapters 47–49
  • VII – September 1837: chapters 14–15 | Pickwick Papers XVIII: chapters 50–52
  • No instalment for October 1837 | Pickwick Papers XIX: chapters 53–55
  • VIII – November 1837: chapters 16–17 | Pickwick Papers XX: chapters 56–57 (final instalment)
  • IX – December 1837: chapters 18–19
  • X – January 1838: chapters 20–22
  • XI – February 1838: chapters 23–25
  • XII – March 1838: chapters 26–27 | Nicholas Nickleby I: chapters 1–4
  • XIII – April 1838: chapters 28–30 | Nicholas Nickleby II: chapters 5–7
  • XIV – May 1838: chapters 31–32 | Nicholas Nickleby III: chapters 8–10
  • XV – June 1838: chapters 33–34 | Nicholas Nickleby IV: chapters 11–14
  • XVI – July 1838: chapters 35–37 | Nicholas Nickleby V: chapters 15–17
  • XVII – August 1838: chapters 38-part of 39 | Nicholas Nickleby VI: chapters 18–20
  • No instalment for September 1838 | Nicholas Nickleby VII: chapters 21–23
  • XVIII – October 1838: conclusion of chapter 39–41 | Nicholas Nickleby VIII: chapters 24–26
  • XIX – November 1838: chapters 42–43 | Nicholas Nickleby IX: chapters 27–29
  • XX – December 1838: chapters 44–46 | Nicholas Nickleby X: chapters 30–33
  • XXI – January 1839: chapters 47–49 | Nicholas Nickleby XI: chapters 34–36
  • XXII – February 1839: chapter 50 | Nicholas Nickleby XII: chapters 37–39
  • XXIII – March 1839: chapter 51 | Nicholas Nickleby XIII: chapters 40–42
  • XXIV – April 1839: chapters 52–53 | Nicholas Nickleby XIV: chapters 43–45
Nicholas Nickleby would run to September 1839.

Now, let's return to Mr. Pickwick. I've read this instalment of The Pickwick Papers a little earlier than usual because the eleventh instalment ended on somewhat of a cliff-hanger; we know that this is the month Mr. Pickwick is due in court...

Chapter XXXIII
Mr. Weller The Elder Delivers Some Critical Sentiments Respecting Literary Composition; and, Assisted by his Son Samuel, Pays a Small Instalment of Retaliation to the Account of the Reverend Gentleman with the Red Nose

'The Valentine' by Phiz.
Before we get to the dramas of the court, we begin on 13th February, the day before Pickwick's court appearance, with Sam Weller who is considering Valentine's Day during a wander to Leadenhall Market:
As he was sauntering away his spare time, and stopped to look at almost every object that met his gaze, it is by no means surprising that Mr. Weller should have paused before a small stationer’s and print-seller’s window; but without further explanation it does appear surprising that his eyes should have no sooner rested on certain pictures which were exposed for sale therein, than he gave a sudden start, smote his right leg with great vehemence, and exclaimed, with energy, ‘if it hadn’t been for this, I should ha’ forgot all about it, till it was too late!’
The particular picture on which Sam Weller’s eyes were fixed, as he said this, was a highly-coloured representation of a couple of human hearts skewered together with an arrow, cooking before a cheerful fire, while a male and female cannibal in modern attire, the gentleman being clad in a blue coat and white trousers, and the lady in a deep red pelisse with a parasol of the same, were approaching the meal with hungry eyes, up a serpentine gravel path leading thereunto. A decidedly indelicate young gentleman, in a pair of wings and nothing else, was depicted as superintending the cooking; a representation of the spire of the church in Langham Place, London, appeared in the distance; and the whole formed a ‘valentine,’ of which, as a written inscription in the window testified, there was a large assortment within, which the shopkeeper pledged himself to dispose of, to his countrymen generally, at the reduced rate of one-and-sixpence each.
‘I should ha’ forgot it; I should certainly ha’ forgot it!’ said Sam; so saying, he at once stepped into the stationer’s shop, and requested to be served with a sheet of the best gilt-edged letter-paper, and a hard-nibbed pen which could be warranted not to splutter. These articles having been promptly supplied, he walked on direct towards Leadenhall Market at a good round pace, very different from his recent lingering one. Looking round him, he there beheld a signboard on which the painter’s art had delineated something remotely resembling a cerulean elephant with an aquiline nose in lieu of trunk. Rightly conjecturing that this was the Blue Boar himself, he stepped into the house, and inquired concerning his parent.

His "parent" soon arrives and is unimpressed with the Valentine's card, which was to be given to Mary the housemaid. Nevertheless he writes it, however signs it"‘Your love-sick Pickwick.’" They then attend the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association where they hear of the evils of alcohol, and in which they are joined by the Reverend Stiggins, or "the Reverend Gentleman with the red nose" as the chapter title promises:
‘Will you address the meeting, brother?’ said Mr. Humm, with a smile of invitation.
‘No, sir,’ rejoined Mr. Stiggins; ‘No, sir. I will not, sir.’
The meeting looked at each other with raised eyelids; and a murmur of astonishment ran through the room.
‘It’s my opinion, sir,’ said Mr. Stiggins, unbuttoning his coat, and speaking very loudly—‘it’s my opinion, sir, that this meeting is drunk, sir. Brother Tadger, sir!’ said Mr. Stiggins, suddenly increasing in ferocity, and turning sharp round on the little man in the drab shorts, ‘you are drunk, sir!’ With this, Mr. Stiggins, entertaining a praiseworthy desire to promote the sobriety of the meeting, and to exclude therefrom all improper characters, hit Brother Tadger on the summit of the nose with such unerring aim, that the drab shorts disappeared like a flash of lightning. Brother Tadger had been knocked, head first, down the ladder.
Upon this, the women set up a loud and dismal screaming; and rushing in small parties before their favourite brothers, flung their arms around them to preserve them from danger. An instance of affection, which had nearly proved fatal to Humm, who, being extremely popular, was all but suffocated, by the crowd of female devotees that hung about his neck, and heaped caresses upon him. The greater part of the lights were quickly put out, and nothing but noise and confusion resounded on all sides.
Sam Weller and his father wisely choose this point to leave.

Chapter XXXIV
Is Wholly Devoted to a Full and Faithful Report of the Memorable Trial of Bardell Against Pickwick

'The Trial' by Phiz.
Here we learn of the seriousness and absurdities of the 19th Century English courtroom, and, most importantly of all, we learn the fate of Mr. Pickwick. The chapter begins on a somewhat troubling note:
I wonder what the foreman of the jury, whoever he’ll be, has got for breakfast,’ said Mr. Snodgrass, by way of keeping up a conversation on the eventful morning of the fourteenth of February.
‘Ah!’ said Perker, ‘I hope he’s got a good one.’
Why so?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘Highly important—very important, my dear Sir,’ replied Perker. ‘A good, contented, well-breakfasted juryman is a capital thing to get hold of. Discontented or hungry jurymen, my dear sir, always find for the plaintiff.’
‘Bless my heart,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking very blank, ‘what do they do that for?’
‘Why, I don’t know,’ replied the little man coolly; ‘saves time, I suppose. If it’s near dinner-time, the foreman takes out his watch when the jury has retired, and says, “Dear me, gentlemen, ten minutes to five, I declare! I dine at five, gentlemen.” “So do I,” says everybody else, except two men who ought to have dined at three and seem more than half disposed to stand out in consequence. The foreman smiles, and puts up his watch:—“Well, gentlemen, what do we say, plaintiff or defendant, gentlemen? I rather think, so far as I am concerned, gentlemen,—I say, I rather think—but don’t let that influence you—I rather think the plaintiff’s the man.” Upon this, two or three other men are sure to say that they think so too—as of course they do; and then they get on very unanimously and comfortably. Ten minutes past nine!’ said the little man, looking at his watch. ‘Time we were off, my dear sir; breach of promise trial-court is generally full in such cases. You had better ring for a coach, my dear sir, or we shall be rather late.’
On they go and late they are not. The trial begins, Mr. Serjeant Buzfuz for the prosecution, Mr. Serjeant Snubbin for our defendant, Mr. Pickwick, and finally Mr. Justice Stareleigh as the judge:
Mr. Justice Stareleigh (who sat in the absence of the Chief Justice, occasioned by indisposition) was a most particularly short man, and so fat, that he seemed all face and waistcoat. He rolled in, upon two little turned legs, and having bobbed gravely to the Bar, who bobbed gravely to him, put his little legs underneath his table, and his little three-cornered hat upon it; and when Mr. Justice Stareleigh had done this, all you could see of him was two queer little eyes, one broad pink face, and somewhere about half of a big and very comical-looking wig.
Buzfuz presents Mrs. Bardell as a poor and innocent widow. On Pickwick: "‘Of this man Pickwick I will say little; the subject presents but few attractions; and I, gentlemen, am not the man, nor are you, gentlemen, the men, to delight in the contemplation of revolting heartlessness, and of systematic villainy.’" He goes on to prevent his 'damning' evidence:
Two letters have passed between these parties, letters which are admitted to be in the handwriting of the defendant, and which speak volumes, indeed. The letters, too, bespeak the character of the man. They are not open, fervent, eloquent epistles, breathing nothing but the language of affectionate attachment. They are covert, sly, underhanded communications, but, fortunately, far more conclusive than if couched in the most glowing language and the most poetic imagery—letters that must be viewed with a cautious and suspicious eye—letters that were evidently intended at the time, by Pickwick, to mislead and delude any third parties into whose hands they might fall. Let me read the first: “Garraways, twelve o’clock. Dear Mrs. B.—Chops and tomato sauce. Yours, Pickwick.” Gentlemen, what does this mean? Chops and tomato sauce. Yours, Pickwick! Chops! Gracious heavens! and tomato sauce! Gentlemen, is the happiness of a sensitive and confiding female to be trifled away, by such shallow artifices as these? The next has no date whatever, which is in itself suspicious. “Dear Mrs. B., I shall not be at home till to-morrow. Slow coach.” And then follows this very remarkable expression. “Don’t trouble yourself about the warming-pan.” The warming-pan! Why, gentlemen, who does trouble himself about a warming-pan? When was the peace of mind of man or woman broken or disturbed by a warming-pan, which is in itself a harmless, a useful, and I will add, gentlemen, a comforting article of domestic furniture? Why is Mrs. Bardell so earnestly entreated not to agitate herself about this warming-pan, unless (as is no doubt the case) it is a mere cover for hidden fire—a mere substitute for some endearing word or promise, agreeably to a preconcerted system of correspondence, artfully contrived by Pickwick with a view to his contemplated desertion, and which I am not in a condition to explain? And what does this allusion to the slow coach mean? For aught I know, it may be a reference to Pickwick himself, who has most unquestionably been a criminally slow coach during the whole of this transaction, but whose speed will now be very unexpectedly accelerated, and whose wheels, gentlemen, as he will find to his cost, will very soon be greased by you!’
Witnesses are called, and when it comes to Mr. Winkle's turn he bungles it, and Snodgrass and Tupman make it yet worse. After further questioning, other witnesses and character statements, the verdict is reached:
‘Gentlemen,’ said the individual in black, ‘are you all agreed upon your verdict?’
‘We are,’ replied the foreman.
‘Do you find for the plaintiff, gentlemen, or for the defendant?’
For the plaintiff.’
‘With what damages, gentlemen?’
‘Seven hundred and fifty pounds.’
Mr. Pickwick took off his spectacles, carefully wiped the glasses, folded them into their case, and put them in his pocket; then, having drawn on his gloves with great nicety, and stared at the foreman all the while, he mechanically followed Mr. Perker and the blue bag out of court.
They stopped in a side room while Perker paid the court fees; and here, Mr. Pickwick was joined by his friends. Here, too, he encountered Messrs. Dodson & Fogg, rubbing their hands with every token of outward satisfaction.
‘Well, gentlemen,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Well, Sir,’ said Dodson, for self and partner.
‘You imagine you’ll get your costs, don’t you, gentlemen?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
Fogg said they thought it rather probable. Dodson smiled, and said they’d try.
‘You may try, and try, and try again, Messrs. Dodson and Fogg,’ said Mr. Pickwick vehemently, ‘but not one farthing of costs or damages do you ever get from me, if I spend the rest of my existence in a debtor’s prison.’
‘Ha! ha!’ laughed Dodson. ‘You’ll think better of that, before next term, Mr. Pickwick.’
‘He, he, he! We’ll soon see about that, Mr. Pickwick,’ grinned Fogg.
Speechless with indignation, Mr. Pickwick allowed himself to be led by his solicitor and friends to the door, and there assisted into a hackney-coach, which had been fetched for the purpose, by the ever-watchful Sam Weller.
And together they leave. There ends the twelfth instalment.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo.

Title-page of Ninety-Three illustrated by
Émile Bayard.
Ninety-Three (Quatrevingt-treize) is the final novel of Victor Hugo, and the title refers to a period within the French Revolution which lasted between 1789 to 1799. In 1793 the king, Louis XVI, was executed, the monarchy was abolished, and the Reign of Terror (la Terreur) began. When Hugo's novel was published in 1874, France had faced another upheaval: in 1852 following a coup the Second French Empire had been established, and following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 it collapsed (Émile Zola writes about this period in his Rougon Macquart novels), leading to the establishment of the Third Republic (1870 - 1940; France is now in its Fifth Republic). During 1871 France was ruled by the Paris Commune, which was marked by its radical socialist ideas (Karl Marx would describe it as a "dictatorship of the proletariat"); this led to a war with the government and the week beginning 21st May was known as 'The Bloody Week' (La semaine sanglante). Though Ninety-Three was specifically about the French Revolution, there can be no doubt this had been brought to mind by the events Hugo witnessed during this period.

The novel is divided into three parts:
  • Part I: At Sea
  • Part II: In Paris
  • Part III: In Vendée
'At Sea' by
Fortuné-Louis Méaulle.

It begins in Brittany in the woods of La Saudraie: a peasant woman, Michelle Fléchard, encounters the "Blues", or republican soldiers, who question her, asking what her name is, where she's from, who her parents are or were, and which side her husband fights on. Bemused, she tells them he is dead:
"And what does your husband do, madame? What's become of him?"
"Nothing has become of him, because they killed him."
"Where?"
"In the hedgerows."
"When?"
"Three days ago."
"Who?"
"I don't know."
"What! You don't know who killed your husband?"
"No."
"Was it a Blue? Was it a White?"
"It was a bullet."
"Three days ago?"
"Yes."
"In what direction from here?"
"Towards Ernée. My husband fell. That's all."
This line of questioning has brief and almost darkly comic moments, but it shows the high emotions of the time. It's revealed that this peasant woman's husband was killed during the peasants' revolt, and therefore the soldiers agree to help her and her three children.

As this plays out, the Whites (royalists) meanwhile are at sea with the Marquis de Lantenac, an aristocrat who will help their cause. The ship becomes damaged when a sailor fails to secure a canon. He manages to save the ship and is rewarded for his bravery, and then is swiftly executed without trial for his failure. When the ship is spotted by the Republicans, Lantenac steals away and safely lands, and he is protected by a local beggar. When he meets with the other royalist peasants he is now in a position to attack the republicans, and captures many of the Blues, including Michelle Fléchard. He then orders them to be shot, keeping Michelle's three children as hostages. Yet Michelle survives.

'In Vendée' by
Fortune-Louis Méaulle.
'In Paris' by
Fortuné-Louis Méaulle.
Clearly, the bloody ruthlessness of the Marquis de Lantenac is a grave threat to the republicans, and the matter is discussed by Danton, Robespierre and Marat. These three are in fact figures from real life. Danton is Georges Jacques Danton, the first president of the Committee of Public Safety created in April 1793. Robespierre is Maximilien Robespierre, a lawyer and politician instrumental in creating the Committee of Public Safety. Finally, Marat is Jean-Paul Marat, who, among other things, was a radical journalist. With Cimourdain, a revolutionary priest, they decide to execute all republicans and those who help the republicans, as well as to keep a close eye on Gauvain, the commander of the republican troops. What they don't know is that Cimourdain was the tutor of Gauvain.

From here Hugo describes not only the bloody war between the 'Blues' and the 'Whites', the injustices and senselessness of the many deaths during this period, but also on how Michelle Fléchard finds and tries to save her three children. It's a very gripping novel, and frequently very shocking. As well as an account of one of the bloodiest periods of French history, the fictional element portrays the terror and the divided loyalties of individuals to their people and to the state. A very great and unsettling read.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Candide by Voltaire.

First editions of Voltaire's Candide from 1759.
Candideou l'Optimisme is Voltaire's most famous work. It's a short satire, first published in 1759, on optimism as a philosophical concept. In the 18th Century the German writer Gottfried Leibniz argued, in response to the problem of evil, that this world is the best of all possible worlds, yet this period was marked by some upheaval: the Seven Years' War (1756-63) and the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 which resulted in a tsunami and claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. In short, this world certainly did not feel like the best of all possible worlds, and this is what motivated Voltaire to write Candide.

Candide, who is not unlike Gulliver of Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), is a young man, the illegitimate nephew of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, brought up in his uncle's castle in Westphalia (north west Germany). His tutor is Pangloss:
Pangloss taught metaphysico-theologico-cosmo-codology. He could prove wonderfully that there is no effect without a cause and that, in this best of all possible worlds, His Lordship the Baron's castle was the most beautiful of castles and Madam the best of all possible Baronesses.
However, Candide falls in love with his cousin Cunégonde, is discovered, and is thrown out of the castle. On leaving he is captured by the Prussian army (in the Seven Years' War the Prussians fought against France and her allies) where he is treated very badly, even flogged for apparent desertion. He manages to escape a during a battle (which Voltaire describes as "heroic butchery"), is reunited with Pangloss, now a syphilitic beggar. He tells Candide that Cunégonde, her mother and father were all murdered by the Bulgar army (the Prussians who Candide was forced to join), and goes to Holland where he is taken in by Jacques, an Anabaptist. Candide, Jacques, and Pangloss then travel to Lisbon, suffering a shipwreck and the earthquake. When they arrive they are arrested by the Portuguese Inquisition when Pangloss discusses optimism: he is hanged, and Candide is flogged. An old woman helps him dress his wounds, but to Candide's astonishment, she also reunites him with Cunégonde who is not in fact dead. She explains what happened in the castle, and how she came to be owned as a slave by Don Isaachar and the Grand Inquisitor of Lisbon. When they come looking for her, Candide kills them, then he, the old woman, and Cunégonde flee to South America where Don Fernando proposes to Cunégonde, Despite loving Candide and agreeing to marry him, Cunégonde accepts Don Fernando. To add to Candide's woes, the Portuguese authorities have followed him to South America. Along with Cacambo, his new valet, Candide manages to speak with the Jesuit commander, who turns out to be Cunégonde's brother. He then tells him he wishes to marry Cunégonde, her brother refuses, and so Candide kills him and once again is forced to escape. Eventually they arrive at Eldorado, a utopia:
... they were shown round the city, with its public buildings raised (and praised) to the skies, its market-places decorated with a thousand columns, its fountains of spring-water and rose-water and sugar-cane liquors, all playing carelessly in the middle of large squares paved with special stones which gave off an aroma similar to that of clove and cinnamon. Candide asked to see the law courts. He was told there weren't any, and that there were never any cases to hear. He asked if there were any prisons, and he was told there weren't. What surprised him most and gave him the greatest pleasure was the Palace of Science, in which he saw a gallery two thousand feet long all full of instruments for the study of mathematics and physics.
1761 edition.
Yet Candide misses Cunégonde, so they leave (with a fortune) to find her once more and to pay Don Fernando to release her. However much of Candide's wealth is stolen by Vanderdendur but, on the way to France, Candide and his new companion, the pessmistic Martin, discover most of it after Vanderdendur's ship has sank. Discovering that wealth attracts many false friends, Candide and Martin travel to Venice where Candide has arranged to meet Cunégonde and Cacambo, however they are not to be found. It's eventually revealed that Cacambo has been enslaved, as has Cunégonde, who is in Constantinople with the old woman. Candide buys Cacambo's freedom, and is even reunited with Pangloss and Cunégonde's brother, neither of whom actually died. Candide, Cunégonde, the old woman, Pangloss and Cacambo eventually find happiness when they put all their efforts into "cultivating their own garden", leaving vice and philosophical speculation behind and finally enjoying contentment and fulfilment.

If this sounds complicated, be aware this is my attempt to simplify it! But, complicated though it may be it's highly entertaining: characters die and are resurrected, and poor Candide swoons his way from one catastrophe to another. But it's not all fun and games, there is some degree of seriousness behind it. Voltaire attacked the notion of optimism, that a perfect God had in fact created a perfect world, and in Candide each character suffers horrifically for no greater good, and in fact only reach fulfilment when they "cultivate their own garden", and, in the process, reject philosophical speculation. Religious men in Candide don't fare too well either, drawing attention to the hypocrisies of men of the church. For that Candide is very harsh, but interesting nonetheless. I enjoyed it, am sure I missed a great many more subtle points, and thus happily anticipate reading it again one day!

Illustration by Adrien Moreau (1900 edition).
****
Further Reading

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd.

1633 title page.
The Spanish Tragedy, or Hieronimo is Mad Again is a revenge tragedy play by Thomas Kyd and was entered into the Stationers' Register in 1592. It's one of the first revenge plays (not counting the Ancient Greeks) that would become so popular in the late Elizabethan early Jacobean era. 

It begins with a prologue by a ghost, the Ghost of Andrea:
When this eternal substance of my soul
    Did live imprison'd in my wanton flesh,
    Each in their function serving other's need,
    I was a courtier in the Spanish court:
    My name was Don Andrea; my descent,
    Though not ignoble, yet inferior far
    To gracious fortunes of my tender youth.
    For there in prime and pride of all my years,
    By duteous service and deserving love,
    In secret I possess'd a worthy dame,
    Which hight sweet Bellimperia by name.
    But, in the harvest of my summer joys,
    Death's winter nipp'd the blossoms of my bliss,
    Forcing divorce betwixt my love and me.
    For in the late conflict with Portingal
    My valour drew me into danger's mouth,
    Till life to death made passage through my wounds.
    When I was slain, my soul descended straight
    To pass the flowing stream of Acheron;
    But churlish Charon, only boatman there,
    Said that, my rites of burial not perform'd,
    I might not sit amongst his passengers...
The Ghost is accompanied by Revenge, who replies:
Then know, Andrea, that thou art arriv'd
    Where thou shalt see the author of thy death,
    Don Balthazar, the prince of Portingal,
    Depriv'd of life by Bellimperia.
    Here sit we down to see the mystery,
    And serve for Chorus in this tragedy. 
As the ghost explains, he is Don Andrea and he was killed in war by Prince Balthazar of the Portuguese army. Ultimately however the Spanish won the war, and Horatio, Don Andrea's friend, captured Balthazar and presented him to the Spanish king. However, Don Lorenzo, the king's uncle, falsely claimed he had a hand in the capture and so Horatio must share his reward. And so, Balthazar is kept prisoner until the Portuguese Viceroy, who is also Balthazar's father, pays the ransom, and during this time Lorenzo and Balthazar become friends.

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1873-77).
Meanwhile, Horatio informs Bel-Imperia, Lorenzo's sister and lover of Don Andrea, that Don Andrea was murdered by Balthazar. When he leaves, she says:
Yet what avails to wail Andrea's death,
  From whence Horatio proves my second love?
  Had he not lov'd Andrea as he did,
  He could not sit in Bellimperia's thoughts.
  But how can love find harbour in my breast,
  Till I revenge the death of my belov'd?
  Yes, second love shall further my revenge!
  I'll love Horatio, my Andrea's friend,
  The more to spite the prince that wrought his end.
  And where Don Balthazar, that slew my love,
  Himself now pleads for favour at my hands,
  He shall, in rigour of my just disdain,
  Reap long repentance for'his murd'rous deed.
  For what was't else but murd'rous cowardice,
  So many to'oppress one valiant knight,
  Without respect of honour in the fight?
  And here he comes that murder'd my delight...
To complicate matters yet further, Balthazar falls in love with her, and when Lorenzo discovers Horatio is now her lover he brutally murders him by hanging him and stabbing him to death as Bel-Imperia is forced to watch. When Horatio's father Hieronimo discovers his body, he vows revenge, and though now imprisoned, Bel-Imperia manages to write to him (in her own blood) that Lorenzo and Balthazar are responsible.

As Hieronimo takes his time to carefully plan his revenge, Bel-Imperia is to be forcefully married to Balthazar, and meanwhile Isabella, Hieronimo's wife and Horatio's mother, kills herself. Finally, however, Hieronimo does get his revenge: at the wedding of Balthazar and Bel-Imperia, he plans to act a play (an idea Shakespeare would use in Hamlet, 1603). He explains to Lorenzo and Balthazar:
Marry, my good lord, thus:
   (And yet, methinks, you are too quick with us)—:
  When in Toledo there I studied,
  It was my chance to write a tragedy:
  See here, my lords— [He shows them a book.]
  Which, long forgot, I found this other day.
  Now would your lordships favour me so much
  As but to grace me with your acting it—
  I mean each one of you to play a part—
  Assure you it will prove most passing strange,
  And wondrous plausible to that assembly. 
When it comes to their characters being killed in the play, Hieronimo and Bel-Imperia really do kill them. The king, not surprisingly, is furious: "Fetch forth the tortures: traitor as thou art, / I'll make thee tell", but to avoid being forced to speak Hieronimo literally bites out his own tongue. When the king and his men try to force him to write down his confession, he tricks them into giving him a knife to sharpen the pen, then kills the duke and then himself. The Ghost of Andrea may then rest in peace, and is taken down to the Underworld by Revenge who speaks the final words of the play:
Then haste we down to meet thy friends and foes:
  To place thy friends in ease, the rest in woes;
  For here though death hath end their misery,
  I'll there begin their endless tragedy. 
It is indeed a bloody play on revenge and justice, and the ethics of acting out of revenge, something prohibited by God but in the play, the gods of the play are Proserpine and Pluto, the king and queen of the Underworld who demand that Don Andrea sees that his killers get their comeuppance. It's a tough play to read but nonetheless entertaining, and we're left with the question: is revenge natural, and was Hieronimo right to do what he did, or was he simply mad?

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