Showing posts from March, 2017

Chapters XXXV - XXXVII of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Just over a year ago today I post a summary of the first instalment of The Pickwick Papers! It has been great fun reading a year in the life of Samuel Pickwick and his friends, but of course it's not over - this is the thirteenth instalment, and we still have seven to go.

180 years ago Britain was still in the middle of winter weather: from 1st March 1837 to 31st May 1837, the average temperature was 5.63 °C. It was an unusually cold winter and spring, and still today 1837's spring is the coldest spring on record (the coldest March, incidentally, was in 1674) with continuing blizzards and snow still covering the Campsie and Kilpatrick Hills around Glasgow. Today, however, it's all sun and mist here, though there is a touch of snow on top of the hills around the Scottish Borders, but really barely a dusting. But, enough of the weather, let's return to Mr. Pickwick and see how he's faring after being found liable to pay Mrs. Bardell in damages to the sum of £750.


The Decay of Essay-writing by Virginia Woolf.

The Decay of Essay-writing is an early Virginia Woolf essay, first published in Academy and Literature on 25th February 1905 when she was Virginia Stephen. It begins, The spread of education and the necessity which haunts us to impart what we have acquired have led, and will lead still further, to some startling results. We read of the over-burdened British Museum - how even its appetite for printed matter flags, and the monster pleads that it can swallow no more. This public crisis has long been familiar in private houses. One member of the household is almost officially deputed to stand at the hall door with flaming sword and do battle with the invading armies. Tracts, pamphlets, advertisements, gratuitous copies of magazines, and the literary productions of friends come by post, by van, by messenger - come at all hours of the day and fall into the night, so that the morning breakfast-table is fairly snowed up with them.Woolf goes on to elaborate on this idea of a saturated market, s…

The Revenger's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton and The Atheist's Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur.

Since the end of January I've been reading Four Revenge Tragedies published by Oxford University Press (1995). It consists of: The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd, which I wrote about in February.The Revenger's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton.The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois by George Chapman - this I didn't read at all as it's a sequel to Bussy D'Ambois, which I've not managed to get a hold of yet.The Atheist's Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur. With The Revenger's Tragedy and The Atheist's Tragedy I must say I had some bad luck: I actually think these are my least favourite plays of all time and I had the misfortune of reading them back to back! Nevertheless, if only to 'anchor' them into my brain a little I'll try and say a few words.
The Revenger's Tragedy
This play, which to be fair I preferred to The Atheist's Tragedy, was believed to have been written by Cyril Tourneur, the author of The Atheist's Tragedy, however it turns out it wa…

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola.

Thérèse Raquin is Émile Zola's most famous novel outside of the Rougon Macquart series. It was first published in 1867, four years before the first of the Rougon Macquarts - The Fortune of the Rougons, though, as with Zola's very first novel Claude's Confession (1865) one can see very clearly the themes that would dominate his later works.
In the preface to the second edition (1868) Zola wrote this rather barbed comment: I was simple enough to suppose that this novel could do without a preface. Being accustomed to express my thoughts quite clearly and to stress even the minutest details of what I write, I hoped to be understood and judged without preliminary explanations. It seems I was mistaken. He goes on to write a defence against the "churlish and horrified outcry", stating, In Thérèse Raquin my aim has been to study temperaments and not characters. That is the whole point of the book. I have chosen people completely dominated by their nerves and blood, witho…

Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Ruth is Elizabeth Gaskell's second novel first published in 1853, following Mary Barton (1848) and preceding North and South (1855). One of the reasons I love reading Gaskell's works is the social aspect: Charles Kingsley, the novelist and social reformer, said of Mary Barton, "Do they want to know why poor men, kind and sympathising as women to each other, learn to hate law and order, Queen, Lords and Commons, country-party, and corn-law-leaguer, all alike—to hate the rich, in short? Then let them read Mary Barton." North and South addressed the "Condition of England Question" on social unrest, poverty, and inequality, and in Ruth an exploration of motherhood out of wedlock and the values of Victorian society.
I dare say it would be hard to overestimate how shocking Ruth would have been when it was published in the early 1850s. It tells the story of an orphan, Ruth Hilton, brought up without the motherly love every child ought to have, working as a seamstr…

My Country Right or Left by George Orwell.

My Country Right or Left is an essay by George Orwell, first published a year after the outbreak of the Second World War in the autumn 1940 edition of Folios of New Writing, a periodical founded in 1936 (it ceased in 1950).
The first sentence made me smile, I must say: Contrary to popular belief, the past was not more eventful than the present. If seems so it is because when you look backward things that happened years apart are telescoped together, and because very few of your memories come to you genuinely virgin. It is largely because of the books, films and reminiscences that have come between that the war of 1914-18 is now supposed to have had some tremendous, epic quality that the present one lacks. Oh, for the days when the present seemed uneventful. But, I'm deviating. To continue: he goes on to remember the First World War, and writes on this kind of 'collective memory', meaning that memories of the time, of the actual moment, may have faded and have effectively b…

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov.

The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov's final play, first performed in January 1904, six months before Chekhov's death. The cherry orchard at the centre of the play is said to be inspired by Chekhov's own cherry orchard at his home in Melikhovo (forty miles south of Moscow): during Chekhov's childhood Alexander II's economic policies of development lead to the clearances of many a cherry orchard, including Chekhov's own at his childhood home of Taganrog. Chekhov then planted another orchard in Melikhovo, which was also cleared after the estate was sold. In The Cherry Orchard we see Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya return to her estate one day in May with a view to selling it to may the mortgage, an action that will result in the clearance of the orchard.
The play begins with this rather lovely description of the setting: [A room which used to be the children's bedroom and is still referred to as the 'nursery'. There are several doors: one of them le…

Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope.

The last Anthony Trollope novel I read was in December - The Duke's Children, the final book of the Palliser series which was for me an absolute disaster. Thus it was not without some trepidation that I approached Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite, first published in 1871 between Phineas Finn (1869), which I hated, and The Eustace Diamonds (1873), which I loved. My worry was that, being as I am quite a big Trollope fan, it was all over and I no longer loved him. 
The first thing to say is that I did enjoy Sir Harry. I didn't love it, but I have a reason why that is external to Trollope: I read it in rather strange circumstances. I started it one night last week I think and was really into it, and the next day (I do believe it was a Saturday) I took it out when we went shopping as I always have a fear of being stuck somewhere and having nothing to read and lo, I ended up being stuck somewhere: outside Screwfix (a DIY shop) for 90 minutes. Thus I can't say I was 100% focus…

The Divine Comedy Cantica II: Purgatory by Dante.

It's been five months since I decided to revisit Dante's Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia; 1308-21), reading the first portion of the poem Hell or The Inferno at it is also known back in October. Next comes Purgatory (Purgatorio) in which Dante, guided by Virgil, climbs up the mountain of Purgatory in the Southern Hemisphere of Oceans. The poem begins, To run on better water now, the boat
Of my invention hoists its sails and leaves
Away to stern that cruel stretch of sea; And I will sing if this second kingdom
In which the human spirit cures itself
And becomes fit to leap up into heaven. But here dead poetry rises again,
O holy Muses, since I am your own,
And here let Calliope rise a little, Following my song with that sound from which
The pitiful Magpies felt so sharp a blow
That they despaired of ever being pardoned. Sweet colour of oriental sapphire,
Which gathered in the clear face of the sky,
Right to the very edge of the first circle, Restored to my eyes the touch of plea…

The Two Noble Kinsmen by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

About seven years ago now I read one of those "Top 100 must-read" lists and on it was Shakespeare's complete works which I duly read but my Shakespeare's Complete Works was based on the First Folio list with the added Pericles, however there was no Two Noble Kinsmen, which has not until relatively recently been agreed that Shakespeare did write at least half of it, the other half being generally agreed to have been written by John Fletcher. It has taken me this long to finally read it!
The play is based on a tale from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (1384-96) - 'The Knight's Tale', in which two knights, Palamon and Arcite (cousins), are captured and imprisoned by Theseus, the Duke of Athens, where they both fall in love with the Duke's sister-in-law Emily. It is a dramatic tale of friendship and love, and what happens when the two conflict.
The Two Noble Kinsmen begins with three queens who have arrived in Athens to beg Theseus to avenge their husb…

Night Walks by Charles Dickens.

"Some years ago, a temporary inability to sleep, referable to a distressing impression, caused me to walk about the streets all night, for a series of several nights. The disorder might have taken a long time to conquer, if it had been faintly experimented on in bed; but, it was soon defeated by the brisk treatment of getting up directly after lying down, and going out, and coming home tired at sunrise." So begins Night Walks by Charles Dickens, the thirteenth chapter of The Uncommercial Traveller, which is a collection of essays and sketches written in the late 1850s, around the time he was writing Great Expectations. Quite what this "distressing impression" was that caused Dickens' insomnia I'm unsure, but it's been said this was perhaps related to the breakdown of his marriage and his relationship with his mistress Ellen Ternan. Whatever the case, Night Walks is a fascinating essay on London nightlife. 
Walking around London in the middle of the nigh…

The Paradise of Cats by Émile Zola.

Émile Zola was such an animal lover it's really of no surprise that there is an animal fable amongst his works. The Paradie of Cats (Le Paradis des Chats), which was first published in Contes à Ninon (1864), is the story of an Angora cat, told in it's own words, and it's not the only example of a cat having an important part in one of his stories: in Thérèse Raquin (1867), which by coincidence I read last week and will be reviewing later this week, there is a cat, François, who plays an integral role in the novel. The Paradise of Cats begins, My aunt bequeathed me an Angora cat, which is certainly the most stupid animal I know of. This is what my cat related to me, one winter night, before the warm embers. What follows is a very short story, just five pages long and divided into six chapters, on how this cat yearned to be outside on the rooftops, and what happened when he escaped. The cat describes himself as two years old, fat, simple, and spoiled. He spends his time loo…

The Comedies of William Congreve.

William Congreve (1670 - 1729) is a Restoration poet and playwright and known for writing some of the earlier 'comedy of manners' plays. Yet in his whole life he in fact only wrote five plays: the tragedy The Mourning Bride (1697), and four comedies: The Old Bachelor (1693), The Double Dealer (1694), Love for Love (1695), and The Way of the World (1700). Over the past fortnight I read these comedies, but I'm afraid I didn't get on too well with any of them, so I'm taking a bit of a risk even attempting this post, but it would be helpful (if only to me) to try and bring together as it were what I've read.
The Old Bachelor
The Old Bachelor, or The Old Batchelor as it was then known, largely centres around Sylvia. The old bachelor of the play is Heartwell, described as "a surly old Batchelor" who is in love with Sylvia, little realising she is the forsaken mistress of Vainlove (with whom Araminta is in love). He remains unaware until after their marriage w…