Showing posts from February, 2017

Pleasures and Days by Marcel Proust.

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 SylvaniaA Young Girl's ConfessionA Dinner in SocietyFragments from Italian ComedyViolante, or Worldly VanitiesThe Social Ambitions and Musical Tastes of Bouvard and PecuchetRegrets, Reveries, Changing Skie…

Good Temper by Richard Steele.

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 retiri…

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…

Getting up on Cold Mornings by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

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, virtuo…

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 a…

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 o…

The College Fellow who has Taken Orders by Anthony Trollope.

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…

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 …

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

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 33–34II – March 1837: chapters 3–4 | Pickwick Papers XIII: chapters 35–37III – April 1837: chapters 5–6 | Pickwick Papers XIV: …

Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo.

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 …

Candide by Voltaire.

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…

The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd.

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 confl…